Cuba by Alan Pogue / Timeless Exposures: Europe, New York, Cuba

Local Arts Reviews

<i>Havana, Cuba</i>, by Alan Pogue
Havana, Cuba, by Alan Pogue

Cuba by Alan Pogue

Texas Center for Documentary Photography,

through Feb 14

Timeless Exposures: Europe, New York, Cuba

Flatbed World Headquarters,

<i>Amistad, Cuba-Vietnam Day Care Center</i>, by Alan Pogue
Amistad, Cuba-Vietnam Day Care Center, by Alan Pogue

through February 16

With the contemporary Cuban art show at the Austin Museum of Art last year, the mini-Cuban film series at the Texas Union, the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, and the controversy over Elian Gonzalez being played out before the eyes of the world, it seems that Cuba is everywhere you turn.

If you turn east on MLK, it's no different. A pair of Eastside locales -- the Texas Center for Documentary Photography and Flatbed World Headquarters -- are currently showing black-and-white photography exhibitions about Cuba -- albeit with distinctly different styles. Flatbed Galleries has been showing the exhibition of photographs by Matthew Fuller titled "Timeless Exposures: Europe, New York, Cuba" since before Christmas and had scheduled it to close a few weeks ago. But by popular demand, the exhibit run has been extended and re-installed in the front gallery by the building's entrance. With a blend of conscious aesthetic values -- rich tones and textures, strong contrasts -- and a casual, spontaneous narrative sense, Fuller captures moments of day-to-day life in Havana which dance around popular images of the island to discover the unique. Instead of the stylized and obvious ironies of aging Cadillacs and crumbling hotels, Fuller offers us peculiar or comic or riveting vignettes of the everyday: dancers in rehearsal, actors on a movie set, children at a drink stand. Though Fuller gives a great deal of attention to processing his prints -- his finished photos are delicately constructed -- his style never imposes. His images are sometimes bigger than life and always beautiful, but they are still real.

Just down the street at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography, photographer Alan Pogue is showing photographs of Cuba he shot in December of 1999. Pogue, a Vietnam veteran who has been taking photos of life in Texas, Latin America, and the Caribbean since the late Sixties, is well-known for his images of student protests at the State Capitol in the early Seventies and photographs of street life in Haiti. The Texas Center for Documentary Photography, which he formed in 1996 with D'ann Johnson, is a natural outgrowth of this work. After a relatively quiet start, the center is gathering steam with plans for an exhibition of photos of Chiapas later this spring and a group show featuring works by members of the Cuban Photographic Society later this year. The current exhibition is culled from photographs that Pogue took while accompanying members of the group Veterans for Peace, who went to meet with the organization's Cuban chapter. Like Matthew Fuller, Pogue works in oversized black-and-white prints, but his photos of Cuba are more nearly straight documentation: He shows us a lone patron eating in an all-night restaurant, above him a menu offering potatoes and beans for the equivalent of 7 cents, and a simple family funeral at a Catholic church. More than anything, the images are candid; even the bright white glamour of a smiling young newlywed couple being whisked away in a restored Sixties Ford Galaxy feels unadorned and direct. Pogue's brand of humanism is objective and the opposite of condescending; when he looks into the perceived mythology surrounding Cuba, he finds an island filled with people, just like anywhere else.

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