New York Photo Review
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Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

More Pictures of Havana
Michael Eastman
Havana 2010
Reviewer #1
Michael Eastman, “Portrait, Havana” 2010

It was with a bit of trepidation that I walked up the stairs to the Barry Friedman Gallery for the latest show of photographs by Michael Eastman. After all, for years now there has been a steady stream of pictures of the old, semi-maintained but glorious, 19th century buildings that still stand in many parts of Havana. Robert Polidari, Andrew Moore, and indeed Eastman himself have made their large-format, detailed color images of the Cuban capital into something of a photographic cliché. (You can actually sign-up for ‘photography tours’ of Havana that visit many of the sites.) So I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in and found myself absolutely captivated.

All the usual suspects were there: the bedraggled exteriors, the formerly sumptuous interiors, and one unfortunate image of an old 1950’s American car. (There are currently 27,549, and counting, images of old American cars in Havana on Flickr.)

But it was Eastman’s interior shots that got to me. Natural lighting from generous windows fills each image with the full bodied color of the the walls and fixtures. And the pictures are big, most 90 inches across, so that the details of the tiniest crack or embellishment are available. Original or trend setting? No. Straight-forward, honest, and superbly crafted? Yes. Eastman has an intelligent eye and assumes that the viewer does, too; there is no need to push the pictures forward, the scene is there and you can make of it what you will.

The rooms in these pictures are not abandoned ruins, but mostly from inhabited buildings being maintained as best possible with limited funds. Appointments are haphazard yet valued. An Art Deco theater seems to have been recently plastered and painted, an apartment stairway shows the signs of constant use, but is clean and functional. Everywhere a sense of languor and faded glory is palpable. Looking at these pictures is a little bit like taking a lazy afternoon dip in warm Caribbean waters.

 by unidentified photographer.
Michael Eastman

Now, let me saddle up one of my favorite hobby-horses and talk about an absolutely asinine statement in the press release! “A purist to his 4x5 camera, negative film, and natural light, Eastman does not believe in digitally altering his photographs. Doing so, he claims, would alter the historical significance of the finished product. Vivid and jewel-like tones come from long exposure and natural light, not RGB or CMYK...” What hogwash! We are looking at digital C-prints, the only thing we are actually seeing are tiny dots of Cyan Magenta and Yellow dyes. And the jewel-like colors have everything to do with the ability of color negative film and Photoshop to convert ordinary colors into very saturated, “jewel-like,” colors. It is this color saturation that really defines the look of contemporary photography. The prints in this show are really glorious, and Mr. Eastman should be grateful that his printer at least is paying attention to the RGB and CMYK’s. When will these old guys realize that they are living in a digital world?

OK, OK, Whoa Thunderbolt! Remember, a press release should never be a reason for not enjoying a good show.

Michael Eastman
Havana 2010


Barry Friedman
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Friday, March 4 to
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Hours: Tues-Sun, 10 to 6
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery