Review by Douglas Stockdale •
Three street photographers and their three unique perspectives and shared interests; they came together in 2019 at the International Video Art Festival of Camagüey and this photographic book project resulted from that meeting and their time wandering the streets of Camagüey, a city on the island of Cuba.
The book’s title, Camagüey, Camagüey,
Camagüey subtlety hints at the book’s contents with the repeat of the cities name, while the third repetition has a strike-through. Something is different, perhaps not right, or that what follows is not meant to be a series of cliché photographs. This book was not produced by any Chamber of Commerce intent on selling this location as a vacation destination, but that instead we obtain a visual pulse of the social fabric found in this city.
What is evident is that Camagüey is located in the economically challenged country of Cuba, itself situated in the midst of the tropical Caribbean Sea. The book’s colorful design interweaves the Caribbean pastel color palette of this region as a subtle sub-text. The book’s slip-cover echo’s this same color palette and provides a sense of the balmy air found within.
The photographers share a common language with their subjects that would allow more accessibility, but from my past experience, I know that their particular Spanish accent would also alert their subjects to the fact that these photographers were strangers, outsiders. Nevertheless, their subjects appear relaxed, approachable, and entirely engaged with the photographers, a difficulty that a non-Spanish speaking photographer might have on this island. Thus, many of the portraits have a sense of intimacy that can only result from being able to get in close and personal.
It is probably not a surprise that their framing and sequencing of images has a cinematic appearance due in part to their mutual backgrounds in film/video making. Perhaps more evident in the portfolio by Felipe Aguilar. One of Aguilar’s three panel sequence, featured below, is wonderful in how we are led from the general to the specific and to point of his poetic narrative. The first paired photographs on the left page appear to be focusing on the man with the hat riding his bicycle heading towards the photographer, which in turn leads the viewer across the book’s gutter to a larger photograph on the right page that captures the occupants of the blue car. The car is truncated to place the central focus on those within the car, the driver appearing to be hunched over the steering wheel, maybe a bit frustrated by their lack of process due to the bike rider who is meandering down the middle of the street blocking the way, and provides direct eye contact with the passenger, whose muscular arm is propped-up by the car’s window frame. I find this a wonderful cinematic switch up; I may think I know who the subject is on one side of the page spread, but then realize the head-fake as to who is really of interest to the photographer. Brilliant as to how the left side photographs lead the reader to the real subject.
In the Díaz portfolio, a cinematic framing is created in his paired images when these are placed in juxtaposition. The subtle contrasting diptych of the hair cutting sequence, below, the way the backs of the subjects are positioned toward each other, the inside/outside locations of the events and the female/male barbers draws the viewer into the paired images. It appears that Romero encompasses the entire two-page spread for a larger framing, where a woman leans towards the right and her hand appears to be casually holding a cigarette, that extends out to the edge of the frame and leads the viewers eye to the opposite page of the photograph of crossed arms, that subtly point back towards the woman. We find ourselves looping back and forth between the two images as they interplay off each other.
Indirectly this book could be an investigation of the Latin vision, with two of the photographers from diverse locations within Mexico, the other a native of Colombia who now resides in Miami Florida, an area that has a strong diverse Latin Caribbean community, including many from Cuba. It is an attempt to dig deeper into this found culture, the perspective of a Latin on a Latin society. This book is as much about the diversity found in a Cuban city as it as about the diversity of the photographic vision of the individuals involved in this project.
Dr. Teresa Isabel Bustillo Martinez states in her introduction “In the 53 images compiled in this book, not a single one of the typical icons of traditional representation of this city appears, at least not in a leading sense; there are no pottery vases, no churches, no city squares, no interior patios; there are people, streets, parks, shadows; there are faces and traces of life; and there is, above all, the amazement and gratitude of Díaz, Aguilar and Romero to a city that is torn by and at the same time finds solace in its moderation, its enigmas and its haughtiness.”
The book’s body of work is divided into three sections, one portfolio for each photographer that includes the artist’s introduction. Each street photographer, using a documentary style, provides a unique investigation of the culture of this Cuban urban city.
Camagüey – Manuel Díaz, Felipe Aguilar, & Julio M. Romero
Manuel Díaz, born Mexico City (Ciudad de Mexico) and resides Mexico City, Mexico
Felipe Aguilar, born Bogota Colombia and resides in Miami, Florida, USA
Julio M. Romero, born Mexicali, Mexico and resides in Tijuana, Mexico
Self-published, 2020 available through Instagram @camagueycamagueycamaguey
Essay: Dr. Teresa Isabel Bustillo Martinez, Manuel Díaz, Felipe Aguilar, & Julio M. Romero
Stiff-covers, hard shell slip-cover, perfect binding, printed in Mexico
Photobook Designer: Manuel Díaz
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