Focus on Cuba

Until recently images of contemporary Cuba were in short supply on this side of the straits. Cuba was mostly a place imagined, created in the mind's eye by memories, secondhand descriptions, or mere supposition. This mystique, along with eased travel restrictions and the sheer visual wealth of the island and its people, has of late made it a popular destination for photographers.

Andrew Moore spent five weeks shooting exteriors and interiors in the capital city, most of them in the Old Havana neighborhood. His sublime visions of urban life on display at the Margulies Taplin Gallery provocatively capture the sharp contrast between past and present that is ubiquitous in Havana. In one work customers wait in line at the marble counter of a grand old pharmacy, where the scant provisions on the shelves clash pathetically with the imposing décor. Elsewhere a girl in a severe school uniform sits reading in an antique parlor chair with torn upholstery. The peeled paint and bubbles of mold on the wall behind her look like an Abstract Expressionist canvas.

Long interested in decadent urban architecture, Moore says a fellow photographer's image of a decaying ballroom inspired him to visit Cuba. "I had photographed ruins before, but this was a situation where people were living in them and I'd never encountered that," Moore says from his home in New York. "I was interested in things that had a kind of ripeness to them, but I don't consider that to be just about the romance of ruins. There's a kind of creative tension in Havana. You find all of these layers of time in just one place, all of these moments of time compressed into one image."

Miami-based photojournalist Tony Savino fell in love with Santiago de Cuba, on the nation's eastern coast, during his first trip there. "It's such a culturally rich city," Savino says. "Everywhere you turn you run into artists of some kind -- dancers, singers, visual artists, poets, musicians." It's very Caribbean, and very different from Havana." After spending a month there, he captured the soul of the city in a series of color photos now on exhibit at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Particularly interested in the residents' spiritual and artistic life, he documented the fervent ritual performances of an Afro-Cuban folkloric group, as well as the quieter observance of a man setting out yellow flowers on the sidewalk in honor of a Santería goddess. Other photos portray the city's buildings and life on the sun-scorched streets. In one endearing shot, a self-possessed little boy clad only in shorts pulls his homemade wooden wagon down the street.

Savino, who has published his work in Newsweek and the New York Times Magazine, previously exhibited these photos in a Santiago gallery. At the show's opening, the subjects of his pictures crowded in, eager to see the result of his residency in their hometown. "They're pictures of their city seen through my eyes," says Savino. "Through the eyes of an outsider."

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Judy Cantor