Underneath the fireworks in the night sky, New York is dark, a noirish place where Arlene Gottfried takes her camera and collects images of a time and a place like no other. The Lower East Side has become iconographic, all the more so because it’s been erased by a honey monied culture that has swept the City under Bloomberg and Giuliani. But back when Ms. Gottfried walked the streets, another City awaited, one that was vibrant and vibrated with the rhythm and style of the Caribbean.
Bacalaitos & Fireworks, Arlene Gottfried (powerHouse Books)
Bacalaitos & Fireworks (powerHouse Books), Arlene Gottfried’s fourth book, collects photographs of the Lower East Side during the 1970s and 80s, at a time when Salsa culture was at an all-time high. New Yorico had become a place of its own, an island where art and style flourished, and prophets came as poets like Miguel Piñero. In A Lower East Side Poem (1980), he writes:
A thief, a junkie I’ve been
committed every known sin
Jews and Gentiles…bums and men
of style…runaway child
police shooting wild…
mothers’ future wails…pushers
making sales…dope wheelers
& cocaine dealers…smoking pot
streets are hot & feed of those who bleed to death…
Gottfried’s images are melodic, and sometimes haunting refrains from an epic poem written on the City streets. Like her previous volumes, Bacalaitos & Fireworks captures the rarefied air that New Yorkers live and breathe.
I Am Cuban, Helena de Bragança (Damiani)
Down in the Caribbean, another story awaits, a story told by Helena de Bragança in I Am Cuban (Damiani), a lush and eerie collection of portraits and stories told of Cuba today. As Romina Ruiz Goiriena tells it, “I’m not so sure El Nuevo or any other foreign press really understands that Cuba is more than cigars, prostitutes, corruption and Fidel. What they don’t see is that our complexities stem from a schizophrenia sense of patriotism resulting from the legacy of a nationalist project our grandparents undertook in the 1960s. today we not only have no use for it but also have no idea what to do with it. But alas, if I ever plan to update my blog or start my own online paper here, writing their psychobabble-Cuba-journalism is the only way. Who cares that there are more relevant things happening in Cuba, right?”
As de Bragança explores the country, we see a world so familiar, yet set apart by a history that has become a relic before our eyes. Images of Cuba are gripped with an exoticism that is only enhanced by victoriousness of the human spirit. Indomitable it adapts to all circumstances. In Cuba, the pride is high, and that is why it attracts so many voyeurs. With her images, de Bragança takes to a place where pig heads sit snout out on at the market, cause Cuba keeps it real like that.
Walker Evans: Cuba, Walker Evans (Getty Publications)
Decades earlier, Walker Evans traveled to Cuba to take photographs for The Crime of Cuba, a book by radical American journalist Carleton Beals, who wanted to expose the corruption of dictator Gerardo Machado, who ruled Cuba from 1925–1933. Evans photographs were taken in that last year, shot over a quarter of a century before Castro would create history and alter the country forever. Evans images show a world that looks so very familiar, like a refrain from a song we know. Evans photographed the sidewalks, the streets, the signage of the times, the decorative elements of architecture, the street sellers and the prostitutes, and the people of Cuba who have been the victim of a corrupt government and live as they need to in order to make it through.
Walker Evans: Cuba (Getty Publications) features a collection of 70 photographs taken in his study of Cuba. As Andrei Codrescu writes in the foreword, “Walker Evans portrayed a world of people who looked and acted modern and occasionally prosperous. The city of Havana appears vast and sexy, full of industrial-age forms so dear to his aesthetic. Sure there are beggars, possible prostitutes, people sleeping on park benches, but they could be part of any scene in the 1930s. There is worry on some faces, studied indifference on others, suffering in some eyes. We could be in a slower New York.”