Virginia Beahan’s new book Cuba, Singing with Bright Tears, Pond Press became available in April 2009 is a big breathtakingly beautiful book that takes full advantage of Beahan’s large format photographs.
Her landscapes photographs are a delight to read with a tonal palette that reminds me of the seminal Joel Meyerowitz’s Cape Light photographs. The hard cover book is 12 3/4″ x 11 1/4″ yeilding pages that are 12 1/2″ x 11″ with plenty of real estate for the images. All of the photographs are surrounded by a classic white margin which is a nice design by Kay Homans. When a photograph requires a two page spread there is nothing lost in the gutter as the images on facing spread each continues with the white margins. In the one case of a three page gate-fold spread all three images retain their white margins which creates an impressive spread of photographs as it opens before you to see the full effect of this transfixing photograph of a bay.
The series also takes on a documentary feel especially the first section with her captions placing the photograph’s into a contextual relationship to Castro’s control and the current economics. We also see the irony of what Castro had hoped to create versus the almost poverty level subsistence that his people now maintain. It is also evident that her subject’s lives are lived with a somewhat quiet respect and dignity to make the most of what they do have.
I also enjoy Beahan’s wry humor about the Cuba society which is taught to fear the potential next invasion from the “imperialist” USA and yet a run down ball field is ready to report the progress of the ball game with a mix of American and Spanish text. As a ball player when you are Out, there is really only way to state that with the proper baseball authority, eh?
The current state of Cuban under Castro is shown with empathay by Beahan providing a balanced and sensitive view point. Cuba has become a very third world country as its economic security with the former USSR is now a thing of the past. All of this may change again with a corresponding leadership change. If Cuba is allowed to have a huge tourist flux from the United States then this landscape will morph rapidly again by the resulting tourism infrastructure investments.
She captures the colorful Caribbean residences and businesses facades that make up the Cuban urban landscape using that wonderful sun drenched light. I have had the pleasure to work and play on the islands surrounding Cuba and each with their own particular landscape that reflects their respective culture. Thus I can almost feel the humidity rising off the pages and smell the heavy fragrances of the Caribbean. These photographs resonant with memories within me.
One single image can not really define a culture but only provides a snap shot or visual “sound” bite. Beahan seeks to go well beyond that with this series of photographs. I have a strong sense of what is Cuba as a result of the accumulation of her landscape images. To go beyond the facades and to patiently observe all the while she is being obviously seen. There is a small dance taking place between the Beahan and those who are in the landscape before her camera.
As a result of her large photographic camera she does move slowly and while looking at the surface topology finds hints of the underlying subtlety that define the Cuban culture. She does not capture the full essence of the island, which would not possible with her photographic tools and techniques, but she does capture a slice of that essence very well.
The hardcover book with dust cover has 162 pages with 97 color photographs and essays by John Lee Anderson and Pico Iyer. Although I have not been to Cuba I now feel more of connection than I had before reading this book.
Best regards, Douglas Stockdale