„Thus, time that appears to have been stopped, puts us to rest, we look up at the night blue sky, unmoved yet floating.“
José Ramon Fajador Atanes
A photograph is the innocent deer trapped in the lens at the passage of time: Its gentle and fragile nature becomes transfixed, preserved in the image in which it encounters the ultimate reason of being.
There are many ways of portraying a city, regarding it as a metaphor for a country, its state of mind and its destiny. This is one of it:
Streets lined with mansions that have fallen prey to the poison ivy of time. Silently, they oppress their long-spanning incertitude, being a witness of the years and the history. All these years, all these stories.
We can see people walking down the streets, lost in thought, with faces of everyday’s gaze of indifference, while others are immersed in the surrounding setting, barely standing out.
Cuba’s light, which – according to Eliseo Diego’s lines, „resists memory / persists within itself, ignores us, owing to its otherworldly existence, its transparency”–, shows itself in these images as peculiarly soft and subdued; filtered through the gloom of rising dusk that enfolds everything: a young cyclist on an empty street, a gathering of friends in the park or, somewhere on the far horizon, long vistas of contemporary buildings towering over densely populated barrios.
The streets happen to be interiors at the same time. Space in this city seems to be a collection of relations, less than a segmented grid, marked, flagged and identified. Some streets of La Habana still bear the names of their tenants of the days of yore.
These spaces and streets are the nourishing lifeblood of this city – whether big in scale or small in size – , they are its living organism, be it the beauty parlor for the female elegancy, indispensable as it is, the bar with its customers, languished and seeking refuge from the daily chores, or the workshops, dilapidated, where modern technology gets repaired, again and again, furthermore, the pharmacy, tucked away in the darkness, between antiques silently, an old lady, a child by its father’s hand, balancing up on the wall that streamlines the ocean, as if embraced by a wave’s undulation.
Darkness encases the houses, thick vegetation closing in on the old residences. From the outside appearance, the buildings exude a sense of peace, a tranquility conquered in the course of the years. Thus, time that appears to have been stopped, puts us to rest, we look up at the night blue sky, unmoved yet floating.
The living spaces are branded, their walls battered, from the years of silence and seclusion. Human presence alone lends an air of warmth to these walls around, an invisible voice makes its claim. In antique furniture, in an old shelf, gaping, scraps and notes waiting to be published; a young woman watches TV, on the wall colors of, frankly, indescribable hues.
Objects truly have their own life, too; intimately suffusing the world with their presence, like the bird cage, the semantics of onion peels or withered flowers in the water glass, death on a sidewalk, a straw lying around nearby, as if the dead bird had drunk shortly before, and carelessly spilled its life.
The sea of Paul Valéry, and that of Cuba, are alike; always at sunset a sinister tone is seeping through the sky. The sea creates boundaries around the city, inevitable and everlasting.
It is the loneliness, the secluded silence of the suffering island: “la maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes” – the cursed waters are everywhere. Appearing calm at times, wayward and volatile when closely watched, sometimes peaceful, sometimes rough and reckless, fallen prey or toy to the whimsies of the climate. The sea defines the shape of the country. Denotes the demarcations of the illusions, frustrating, remaining insurmountable. We are trapped.
In some bodies and faces, a tangible feeling arises that their momentary splendor might be finite while in others, we encounter a deep, unfathomable enigma, like the image of the ocean remaining apparently calm: an old tool to mask desires. Because we all strive for something that life, its reality or whatever we may call it, denies us, elusive to our reach, and thus we keep on juggling aspirations and projects.
A photo is a moment from someone’s existence, and although it reflects the moment in a singular way, it can’t get past that moment’s limits, it can’t show the future nor the past. Nevertheless, it is at the same time so much more: the right moment, captured at the right time, is illuminating. The face, as the knowing proverb says, is the mirror of the soul. Yet, what is this soul at question? Mostly, when talking about those young girls looking at us, challenging, beyond all judgments, painfully independent. Almost in a pose of meditation, they show their beauty with pride, their eyes are like bottomless wells surrounded by mysteries.
These women, however different their tonality and presence may be, define the face of this nation. It is diverse and unique, its magic woven by its people, coming together from all corners of the world. Involved in irreversible contemporaneity, the woman depicted, seeming bathed in something that appears tender and meek, whatever she might be thinking, she is looking in the direction of her fate.
The viewer’s gaze wanders over the naked bodies, inseparably confronted with the ineffaceable traces of fashion, or the peculiar symbols on the skin, irrevocably engraved, presented with self-esteem of eternal youth, its silken smoothness; (or the other way round), they appear as if they don’t know about tomorrow. Likewise there are bodybuilders forming their bodies like living art, or the young fifteen-year-old girl, posing in a makeshift studio for her „Foto de Quince“, posing for a time ahead, awaited in nostalgic expectation.
Framed in a set of colors, carefully chosen to impress the viewer and imbue the portrayed; meaning to highlight them above mere reflection: a young woman standing on the balcony against the dark blue dusk, the streetlights beaming below, a dying tree with thin twigs, a delicate web, becomes the symbol of this world sinking.
It seems to be this eternal struggle between light and darkness, colors of highest resolution placed against tender tones; pictures that cause a silent stir, between light and shadow, the faces, streets and urban landscapes, they are an entity, they define a common ground, fate and face: ours.
On the finespun pattern of a lace throw, a newborn, caring hands dressing and caressing her warmly. Yisell’s child, Lázara, was born on 17 december, the day of San Lázaro, and the day when the United States Government announced further steps in easing the embargo against Cuba. On that day, new horizons seemed to be opening up after half a century of war, conflict and misunderstanding. This little girl, harbinger of morning light, replenishing the emptiness, embodies the future. Lázara is hope.
Translation by Fruzsina Jesse