Apertura: Photography in Cuba Today - Page 13

Photography has lost its distinctive capacity to produce a “truth effect,” however artificial and constructed it may have been, in inverse proportion to technology’s growing capacity of simulation. sell anything without the approval of the National Council of Visual Arts (Consejo Nacional de las Artes Plásticas, or CNAP), which belongs to the Ministry of Culture. Alongside this invigorating flow of art, currency, and ideas, the Special Period also witnessed a massive exodus of people trying to cross the Florida Straight in precarious boats made of the inner tubes of truck wheels. The Center for the Study of International Migrations (Centro de Estudios de Migraciones Internacionales, or CEMI) estimates that 60,000 people left the island illegally between 1991 and 1994, nearly 40,000 of whom left during the summer of 1994 alone. There is no information about how many survived the journey.2 This unprecedented movement of people and cultural artifacts dramatically modified the socio-economic landscape of the island. Twenty years after the Rafter Crisis or “la crisis de los balseros,” as the exodus was known, a more stable Cuba has loosened travel restrictions for Cubans, and is slowly entering a capitalist economy, although it has largely done so in an effort to protect its Socialist government.3 Part of the popularity of Cuba as a tourist destination in the 1990s was precisely the fact that it seemed to live in the past. With its 1950s cars and its crumbling buildings, Cuba looked like a protected haven away from globaliza- tion and technology. A victim of history, Cuba seemed to have stepped out of it. Images of a crumbling Havana appeared in films and photography books everywhere. The city became a favorite tourist destination. Havana became the object of what art critic Laura Marks called “analog nostalgia,” a term that refers to the aesthetic attraction that postmodern first-world societies feel for a less-technological past.4 Indeed, a certain “vintage aesthetics” helped make Havana an especially attractive destination for photographers. However, the deteriorated city was much more than a pretty postcard. The city in ruins has been interpreted as a metaphor for the decadence of utopia. Furthermore, it can also be read as a metaphor for photography itself: the affective texture of the devastated city suggests a purely photographical operation, which is the capacity to capture an image and freeze it in time. Like the work of the camera, Cuba in the 1990s made the past look eternal. The world that made the Revolution possible has changed. And so has photography. Originally defined as writing with light, photography operates now in ways that were unimaginable within its own logic a few decades ago. Photography as a medium has undergone an important evolution following the philosophical and technological 7