Photographs copyright Virginia Beahan, courtesy of Pond Press & Joseph Bellows Gallery
Virginia Beahan’s new book Cuba, Singing with Bright Tears, Pond Press, available in April 2009, is a big, breathtakingly beautiful book that takes full advantage of Beahan’s large format photographs.
Her landscapes 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″, which provides pages that are 12 1/2″ x 11″, and plenty of real estate for the images, all of which are surrounded by a classic white margin, 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. And in the one case of a three page gatefold spread, all three images retain their white margins, which creates an impressive spread of photographs as it opens before you, and you see the full effect of this transfixing photograph of the 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 their lives are lived with a somewhat quiet respect and dignity, making the most of what they do have.
I also enjoy Beahans wry humor, of the Cuba which is taught to fear the potential next invasion from the “imperialist” USA, but yet a run down ball field is ready to report the progress of the ball game with a mix of American and Spanish. 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 is 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 coresponding leadership change. If Cuba is allowed to have a huge tourist flux from the United States, this landscape will morph rapidly again by the resulting tourism infrastusture investments.
She captures the colorful Carribean residences and businesses facasdes 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, 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 Carribean . Such that 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. There is a sense of what Cuba is 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 photographic tools, 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, with 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