La Vida en la Calle (Life in the Street) Exhibit at Looking Glass Gallery Depicts Havana’s Energy, Exuberance

Published Friday, August 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Aug. 17, 2012. La Vida en la Calle (Life in the Street) exhibit will be at The Looking Glass Gallery in Plemmons Student Union on the campus of ASU from Aug. 21 to Sept. 11. Gallery hours for are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Artist Statement

Just as in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1930s, life transpires in the street in Havana. If one goes further away from Old Havana, the neighborhoods become more suburban; houses have lawns, backyards, garages, and the things most of us here in the US have grown accustomed to seeing. The best way to experience Havana is on foot, walking the streets, meeting the people, looking in their doors, and sharing a smile. The photographers in this exhibit got to Havana about noon on Dec. 28, 2011. By evening the group had walked 5.7 miles, made over 5 thousand exposures, and was worn out.

There were no symbols of oppression, the tanks are somewhere else, and the policemen are not carrying automatic weapons. They do have side arms and radios on their belts just as policemen do almost everywhere. They are helpful with directions, they smile, but they don’t want to be photographed. For the most part, the only military uniforms one sees is in the vicinity of the government office buildings, especially around quitting time at the bus stops – in short, it’s no different from most anywhere else.

Our original goal was to attempt to document the holidays. We found out that the holidays are not so big and commercial as they are in the United States. One sees lights, Christmas trees, and posters, but ornamentation is much less. There is a Manger scene in the square in front of the main Cathedral, there were New Year’s Eve specials in the restaurants and many people had parties that night or on New Year’s Day. The real excitement was the energy and exuberance in the street.

It is the mix, the confection created by the sounds, the children running and playing, the music, the odors of food cooking, the dilapidated sewer system barely doing its job, and the people making conversation everywhere – this must be where life began!  That is how you begin to feel in just a very short time – life at its visceral best.

A photographer needs some mastery of technical details, but real success comes from a good eye, a strong creative impulse, and the ability to go beyond looking in amazement to see the amazing things.  After awhile the realization that while Cuba is a different place, it is still similar in more ways than not to the US experience. We are all Americans after all.

If you can learn enough Spanish to say, “¿Puedo tomar una fotografìa, por favor?” then you will be rewarded with special images of a special place.

These photos certainly suggest that these photographers took that to heart.

About the Trip

By Pac McLaurin, Program Leader

The goals of the Cuba Technical Photography Program this last winter break were to observe and understand how both religious and secular holidays were celebrated in a different culture and political system.  Additionally it was anticipated that each student would gain some insight into the history and the current status of the US-Cuba relationship.  By staying in a private home, Casa Particular, the students learned a lot about Cuban life and how the holidays are observed.  Visiting multiple churches, other homes, participating in neighborhood celebrations all facilitated this learning experience.  They even attended a photography lecture done in Spanish by a professor who had visited at ASU seven Years before.

The difficulty of photography in a different culture, having to communicate using non-verbal methods and struggling to learn a few words were all challenges that the group overcame.  Some information gathered during the trip attests to the enthusiasm of the participants.  We averaged walking between 4-5 miles per day; the record for two of the students was 14.7 miles in one day!  In the first two days the eight participants took over five thousand exposures on their digital cameras.  The beauty and the friendliness of Havana was richly captured in these photographs.  The images represent a lot of work, a lot of affection for Havana and its people, and the professionalism of a small but dedicated group of Appalachian State University Students.  As the program leader I feel very privileged and quite fortunate to have had this opportunity to spend two weeks with such an extraordinary group.

Artist Bio

Jake Swarr is a senior technical photography major from Raleigh, NC. He just moved to Chicago this August to pursue a career in architectural photography. This trip to Cuba was his first international experience, and he enjoyed learning about another culture through their food, their music, and most of all, through his lens.

Matt Miller:  Born and raised on the skateboard and surf culture of Wilmington, NC, Matt picked up a camera at an early age. He began photographing his friends and surroundings more seriously during high school and attended Appalachian State to make photography his profession. He is currently finishing his degree and will be graduating in May 2012. He plans to move to Carlsbad, CA shortly after for an internship with Transworld Business Magazine.

Rebecca Murray is a sophomore from Winston-Salem studying Technical Photography and Recreation Management at ASU.  She loves traveling and is extremely passionate about photography, so Cuba was an opportunity of a lifetime for her.  It is her hope that the photography in the exhibition breaks down people’s perceptions of Cuba, as everything she thought to be true was proven false after living in Havana for two weeks.

Dudley Carter is a 60-year-old retired engineer from Augusta, Georgia.  After moving to the High Country in 2007, he rediscovered his passion for photography concentrating on wildlife and nature subjects.  While in Cuba, he found a love for street photography and candid portraits. He is now starting his third year of study at ASU in Technical Photography.

My name is Becky Durr and photography is my passion. I strive to capture the essence of life, whether in the simple day-to-day moments, or the important moments that have an impact on our lives. I love to bring joy to others and I hope that my photography is a vehicle through which I can accomplish that.

Angela Hensley: Kentuckian born, bred and educated (completing her bachelor’s cum laude at western Kentucky university in 2004). Explorer of both domestic and exotic lands, a preference beginning early when at 5 she embarked with younger sister in tow to run away from home (they returned approximately 15 minutes later). AmeriCorps volunteer. Indisputably a Leo uses the camera in an attempt to understand or at the very least see what is happening around her.

Hello, I am Meghan MacBeth Johnson. I believe I have had the artistic ability for capturing a moment or a person’s essence since a very young age. In fact one of my earliest characterizations was a drawing of my brother, which aptly resembled a small monster. My dream career would be with National Geographic and I hope to spend my career emphasizing humanitarian causes through my photos.

Jesse Helms is an ASU senior in Technical Photography and Accounting from Cornelius, North Carolina and is just finishing up an internship at RK Motors Charlotte. While visiting Cuba, he enjoyed learning about, and living, a different way of life than what he was used to. He uses his lens to show people a different view of what is going on around them.

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