position of old and new signs for the same products also
suggests that the future may have already happened. The
effect of these images is that of a poster that you peel off
only to find an older one, a peeling off of skins on a palimpsest that reveals both the contingency and the fatality of
Cuba, subjected to an eternal repetition of past and present.
The layering also suggests a trap door that you have no
idea where it will take you: To the past? To the future? To
a nightmare? All the answers are possible. These images
present Havana as an unfinished historical process, but also
as a collectible object. This dimension is somewhat confirmed by the added advertising. If everything is going to
be for sale, how can we be sure that it was not all along?
Technically speaking, the Hotel Habana series consists
of two photographic events that become a third one. The
fact that the present photograph of Havana gains its artistic
value in its juxtaposition with a past photograph reveals
much about the way in which an old photograph creates an
affective “depth of field.” It lends the new image aesthetic
and emotional capital by feeding a nostalgia not only of the
old city, the city that is no more, but also the nostalgia for
analog photography, for a photograph that meant what it
meant because one could look through it and find a reliable
reality. Now, we see instead a multilayered desire to capture
the changing reality of a wounded city.
I choose to finish with Liudmila + Nelson’s images
because they offer a metaphorical understanding of Cuban
photography today. The Hotel Habana series is built on the
dialectical relationship between the old and the new, desire
and fear, hopes and memories, that make Havana such a
special place. The series also foregrounds the conceptual
battle between faith and skepticism that takes place in any
photographic image. In today’s photography, in particular,
the aura of analog photography lends a surplus of aesthetic
value to the present image. In Liudmila + Nelson’s fantastic
photographs, the material and the ghostly work together,
exploring the contradictions and limitations of the genre,
but also the emotional depth that comes with an original,
unrepeatable past. In these images, photography explores
its own limitations as a medium only to discover a truer
sense of truth.
1 Tim B. Wride, “Three Generations: Photography in Fidel’s
Cuba,” in Shifting Tides: Cuban Photography After the Revolution
(Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2001),
2 Antonio Aja Díaz, “La emigración cubana hacia Estados Unidos
a la luz de su política inmigratoria,” Cuba Vs Bloqueo, July 2000,
accessed February 2, 2015, http://www.cubavsbloqueo.cu/es/
3 Ariana Hernández-Reguant, “Writing the Special Period: An
Introduction,” in Cuba in the Special Period: Culture and Ideology
in the 1990s, ed. by Ariana Hernández-Reguant (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), 8.
Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous and Multisensory Media
(Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2002), 152. See also,
Guillermina De Ferrari, Community and Culture in Post-Soviet
Cuba (New York: Routledge, 2014), 179.
5 “What was once thought to be a window onto the world is transformed into an opaque, resistant surface volumetrically unfolding in space. We are forced to look at photography rather than
through it.” Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (Boston: The MIT Press, 2002), 110.