A Night in Cuba

In 2006, Ernesto Bazan had to reluctantly leave Cuba, the country that he fell in love with, the country that gave him his wife, who bore him twin boys. This is what Ernesto wrote in a Nov. 18, 1995 journal entry, about Cuba:

“…a powerful sense of belonging seized me, as if I had always been here. Every time I left, my only certainly was that I wanted to return. Yesterday, walking on the Malecòn, breathing the fresh sea breeze, it dawned upon me that I had found my roots right here, unconsciously sought after for so long. Here, I’ve become aware of what had motivated my globetrotting urge, my obstinate picture taking among distant cultures in an attempt to capture feelings and instants that would bring me closer to my origins. With photography, I wanted to relive those unforgettable moments spent out in the fields helping the farmers with their daily chores or sharing their lunch. After so many years of wandering, I felt the search was over. Sicily and Cuba seems to interlock like two pieces of a puzzle. In my daily sauntering along the streets of this island my soul is finally at peace. Now I know why.”

Unofficially, yet undeniably deported from Cuba, Ernesto and his family have settled in Veracruz, Mexico. But while you can forced the man off the island, you can’t take his 14 years of love from his heart. It is his work in Cuba, from 1992 to 2006, a time in Cuban history called The Special Period**, that have earned him some of the world’s most prestigious photographic awards, including The W. Eugene Smith grant, the Mother Jones Foundation for Photojournalism, the World Press Photo and two fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation. This body of work amalgamated in a self-published masterpiece, entitled Bazan Cuba, which won The Best Photography Book of the Year Award at the New York Photo Festival in 2006. Heather Murphy of NPR described Ernesto’s unique vision:

“Cuba is a highly photographed place, but Bazan’s vision is distinctive. He gracefully delivers moments in Cuban life that only an extremely sensitive outsider-turned-insider could possibly find. His images are full of surprises — look quickly and you’ll see a beautiful photograph; linger and you’ll begin to grasp a more complex subplot. There is often something hidden — a solemn face peeking out between a girls’ shiny fingernails, a hand reaching eerily through a stream, a car bumper that is actually a man’s head.”

Ernesto has now followed up with a sequel to Bazan Cuba, entitled Al Campo. It is an intimate book of color photos grounded in the Cuban countryside, where Ernesto lived and shot among the peasant farmers–los campesinos–from 2001 to 2005. As a result, Ernesto achieved a profound level of intimacy with his subjects, absorbed in their daily rituals: working the fields, sharing meals, smoking sugartasting cigars rolled by the farmers’ own hands, sipping shots of rum, and talking about the sowing and harvesting of crops, about their families, and about life. This acutely impacted how Ernesto made his photos. Taking pictures became part of a ritual and no longer the main priority, but a component in this exchange among human beings.

Ernesto’s photographic works have headlined exhibitions and graced museums worldwide–MOMA in New York, SFMOMA in San Francisco, the Fondazione Italiana della Fotografia in Turin, the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris and the Musee Rattau in Arles, to name a few. So it is an absolute honor to put together this event, “A Night in Cuba,” at the Chinese Theatres on Nov. 24. Ernesto will present “A Photographic Journey,” which will feature two intimate and riveting audiovisuals conveyed through videos, images, music and additional surprises about the complexity of his life in Cuba.

Copies of both Bazan Cuba and Al Campo will be at the event for purchase and to be signed, if desired, by Ernesto during the “meet & greet” portion of the evening. You can also order the books by emailing ernesto_bazan@hotmail.com, or visiting www.bazanphotos.com or www.bazanphotopublishing.comBazan Cuba is a 280page book featuring 118 black and white photographs that capture Ernesto’s very personal 14-year journey through the island. The Spanish edition of the book is $80.00. A limited amount of the rare English edition, which has become a collector’s item, is $125.00. Ernesto’s new book, El Campo, featuring 88 color photographs, is priced at $85.00.

The event will also include special musical and dance performances by KimBambula, featuring El Maestro Lazaro Galarraga, Kati Hernandez, Iris Sandra and Bobby Wilmore.

Tickets can now be pre-ordered at Creative Asset Strategies’ website for $50 each (it will be $60 at the door). Seating is limited.

“I look at my work in Cuba as a meditation on the human condition. My main concern when I take pictures there has always been to let the humanity of my subjects shine through, to show how the indomitable human spirit always prevails over the daily difficulties. My images aren’t about larger-than-life heroes, they are about real people, like you and me, waking up everyday and facing life as best they can.”

— Ernesto Bazan

(All images © Ernesto Bazan)

** The Special Period was marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent withdrawal of Soviet support, resulting in severe hunger and economic deprivation.