Photos by Manuel Almenares
HAVANA TIMES – Manuel Almenares walks down Central Havana’s streets during these times of Coronavirus. He captures what he goes out looking for: the uncertain combination that is, on the viral side of things, a pinch of fear and five drops of impolite caution, and on the chronic side, this seemingly never-ending aesthetic of sensuality and decadence that so many photographers have successfully exploited.
The images of residents in the city’s oldest and most depicted areas, invites us to think about survivors of some kind of disaster. Here, devastation is always in the works. So, there is no way of surviving.
Instead, survival has become everyday business, just like life and death. Perpetual.
And this is what the people living in Central Havana are concerned about right now, but twice as much. (On April 28, Cuban authorities reported 1,437 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 58 deaths).
These photos represent the redundant harassment of one disease over another.
However, they also bear witness to the Cuban’s smooth skin that lets misfortune slip right off of it, the flexibility of those who bend over and even contort themselves between the ruins without ever breaking, the unfathomable skill of Cubans to bat bad balls with a smile on their face.
Every one of Almenares’ photos has a synthetic ambition which is achieved with the juxtaposition of discourses on different levels: a ritual bowl full of dirty and valuable clothes that catalyze again and again to become an even stronger message, dialectically stronger.
There is the plaster Marti, which is ridiculously white, facing the sun, while a man has collapsed in his shadow (although he’s wearing a mask!). You can see bread and hunger in the same shop window, the present and near future are there (people wearing masks also come up to this shop window). Geometric simplicity becomes a statement about the baroque ruins when the kid with blond hair walks with a shovel over his shoulder.
The woman wearing glasses is the photographer’s mother. Her appearance in this series marks the turn towards the intimate in Almenares’ work, which needs to be discerned amongst old or improvised bars, along narrow and shady corridors, which you find his neighbors in, who are normally sociable, but a little more reserved and reflective.
The artifice, the premeditation in the portrait of the mother doesn’t break the sincerity that the rest of this photographic series takes on. It must be because there is nothing more natural than the religious artifice that refers to her.
Last but not least, there is a larval sensation in these prints that connects them to the iconography of comics, on the one hand, and a kind of apocalyptic movie, on the other… (something which has been said a lot of late).
In addition to disease and death, the absurdity this virus has condemned us to also takes on pandemic dimensions.
(Click on an image to display the gallery.)