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Ernesto Bazan’s tropical dream in Al Campo

Ernesto Bazan’s tropical dream in Al Campo

“Mr. Bazan is a man who embraces what some might consider mystical. In the early 1990s, he went to Cuba and wound up spending 14 years there. He married a Cuban woman and became a father to twins. And ultimately, he published “Cuba,” a big, stunning book of photographs capturing that island´s moods, mysteries and contradictions as few ever have.

In Cuba´s forbidden allure to North Americans, images from its sun-drenched streets have become all too familiar: old cars, even older musicians, colorful costumes and dour revolutionary slogans. Yet those tired images fail to capture how time has also stopped for many Cubans, whose lives are a daily Sisyphean routine of figuring out how to resolve the problem of the moment.

Mr. Bazan´s book documents that parallel and heartbreaking reality, devoid of color but rich in gritty black-and-white textures. He captures the stoic pride of the guajiros, farmers with rough hands and strong faces. Inside a store filled with empty shelves, a bored caretaker — how could he be a salesman if there is nothing to sell? — sits at a counter. Penitents in Havana seek divine intercession crawling on their hands to the shrine of St. Lazarus. Or they haul crosses, oblivious to the revolutionary slogans that no longer put food on the table or hope in their hearts.

Bazan arrived in Cuba in November 1992, an era that found the island´s economy battered after the collapse of its political and economic patron, the Soviet Union. The government dubbed it the “Special Period.”

Some of the early images starkly capture that time. A wan-faced man reclines in a chair next to an open refrigerator whose treasure is but a handful of pale eggs. The glistening head of a fish is plopped next to a man whose own head looks worse. A skeletal half-naked man steps into a decrepit bathroom at a geriatric center.

“Living there for so long — 14 years — I saw a profound sadness,” Mr. Bazan said. “There is a high percentage of suicide in Cuba, because people ask how long do they have to live on $30 a month and not be able to provide for their family.”

But Mr. Bazan´s palette is not one of pure despair. He is just as adept at capturing everyday moments of fun, relaxation or even romance. An image of a boy walking a crab may be surreal, but it is right at home along the Malecón in Havana. And his shots of kids diving into the water are alive with odd angles.

He felt a deep connection to the island, one that was forged in his Sicilian boyhood.

His connection — and his photos — became more personal when he married Sissy, a Cuban, and started a family with her. She and their twins, Pietro and Stefano, feature in some of the book´s warmest images. A revelation led him to photography. Another led him to stay in Cuba. And a third made him leave…

To read the full article please go to Sisyphean Days in Cuba September 2009

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