Havana’s Faded Glories

Michael Eastman is a photographer of architecture and interiors. Havana is his new book capturing the faded glory of Cuba’s capital. It’s 100 photos reveal a city that still carries a strong link to it’s past, and which Eastman brings to the surface in a series of astonishing and entrancing photos.

The immediate reaction to Havana is “where is everybody?” The cover depicts a living room dwarfed by a decadent light fitting; there are two empty chairs around a table; a portrait takes centre stage on the wall; the room is empty yet there is somehow still a presence. Just two pages in there is a shot of a room, possibly a side room. There are ornaments, statues, paintings on the wall. Again, there are two chairs around a table; they’re both rocking chairs and they’re both empty, yet it’s hard to look at the photo without imagining someone sitting there. It’s as if by removing the human element you actually become more aware of it.

The lack of people is a theme carried on throughout the book with only a brief appearance of the human form. The majority of the photos are of three types. There are straight-on photos of facades that revel in revealing how time has affected the symmetry present in many of the building’s designs. There are shots of street corners, with the corner building often feeling like a ship forcing it’s way between two avenues. And there are the interiors, mapping a myriad of rooms, knooks and hallways.

When people are introduced into the photographs the feeling of the past remains. A portrait of an aging man in military uniform could easily come from any era. Furthermore, his attire and demeanour suggest a backwards glance to the past. Two more photos have a similar effect. A peeling blue wall is augmented by an image of Fidel Castro that has been there so long it has began to turn blue itself, Fidel’s image slowly merging into the paint. On the opposite page a shop window is stacked with countless books about Castro and Che Guevera, a reminder of the two men who define Cuba. These few photos – which hint towards actual events and characters in Cuba’s history – are anomalies in this book.

The key to many of these photos is the detail. These are places that have clearly been central to life and have interacted with many people. Yet, as we can’t see that interaction we begin to imagine it. It gives these photos a profound sense of the past that – coupled with the strong architecture, vivid colours and outdated adornments of Havana – makes for an incredibly dense portrait of the city.

Havana is – as mentioned in the foreword – a book of ghosts. Part of the fun of the book then is to imagine the lives that these ghosts led. Never has a book of photography contained quite so many stories.

by Russ Slater

Havana is published by Prestel Publishing. It is available to buy from Amazon and other good bookstores.

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