Review by Melanie Chapman •
Now that new COVID infection rates are decreasing, “the world” seems eager to open up again after more than 700 days of lock down and rationing basic necessities such as food, medicine and even toilet paper. Millions of people have seen restrictions relaxed and have begun traveling again, for business and for pleasure. Economies have begun to recover, families are reuniting, and even fun seems possible again. Yet for at least one small country, its citizens remain in a different state of lockdown, one that has endured for sixty years.
Thus, the arrival of the gorgeous new photobook VANISHING CUBA by Michael Chinnici offers the viewer what may be the only opportunity (particularly for Americans) to visit a place that many have heard about but relatively few have visited, and provides a chance to learn what it feels like to have sustained decades of living with less material goods while maintaining one’s spirits and dignity.
The poet John Dunne wrote “No man is an island…”. Spend time experiencing Cuba through Chinnici’s insightful eyes and you may be tempted to reply “…and no island is one man.”
In the foreword, written in both English and Spanish, Cuban activist and artist Leonor Anthony writes “These images were not taken from the outside by an outsider, like when we look at exotic animals at the zoo or unusual fish in a tank. These images were taken by someone who, although not Cuban, captured all of us in every single shot: all of it- the struggle, sadness, color, passion, resilience, resolve, and ultimately, the power to adjust to the unimaginable.”
VANISHING CUBA is a beautiful and weighty book, with 300 lushly printed color images reflecting the 20 plus trips that Chinnici has been fortunate enough to make to Cuba. His dynamic images share his appreciation for color, both metaphoric and actual, and depict the people, the details, and the landscapes of Cuba. From rural farmers still plowing their fields with oxen, to classic American cars in constant state of repair, and the decaying grand mansions from bygone days, Cuba can seem like the land that time forgot. Yet it is the very passage of time, ranging from pre-revolutionary architecture to beautiful Cuban women displaying contemporary tattoos, that has compelled visitors such as Chinnici to return to Cuba again and again, to soak up its unique cultural history as the small island nation gradually opens up to the outside world.
VANISHING CUBA is a photobook to treasure. Divided into eleven sections with titles such as Sacrifice, Passion, Pride, and Change, Chinnici shares his own experience of falling in love with a place and its people. The deeper you dive into his images and accompanying text, the better you come to know his Cuban friends and the more you will respect the dreams and resilience of the country. If the patina of a faded revolution is soon glossed over with new money from abroad, the quality of light and the desire for self determination will never be erased. As visitors of the island or admirers of this fine book, we should all wish the best for the people of Cuba. They have worked hard and deserve our admiration and support. Buying a copy of Michael Chinnici’s beautiful new book and perhaps taking one of his tours to the country would be an excellent way to start.
Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and a Southern California photographer.
VANISHING CUBA, Michael Chinnici
Photographer: Michael Chinnici, born Brooklyn, New York and based in New York City, NY
Prologue: Rocio Montes Serrano
Text: English & Spanish
Publisher: Red Octopus Publishing, New York, copyright 2021
Hardcover, Silver Edition (reviewed), Deluxe & Reserve Editions, stitched binding, 348 Pages, printed by Longo SPA AG, Bolzano Italy & Bound by Legatoria C&G S.r.l., Milan Italy, ISBN 978-1-7377678-0-0
Book Design: Michael Chinnici
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