Cuba has long represented a radically different version of a North American dream from that of the United States—and that dream now undergoes a dramatic transformation.  In “The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development: Havana, Cuba,” I document the development taking place in Havana, the country’s economic, cultural, and ideological capital, in April 2017, prior to the effects of Hurricane Harvey later that year.  A rapprochement had begun briefly between my country and theirs, and I went wondering what Cuba’s new economic and tourism rules and practices were bringing to Havana and its people.  What is being transformed, how, and for whom?  
With development as the prism for examining these questions, my photographs focus on people and places precariously situated on the economic and social edge of touristic Old Havana or located within Central Havana, a traditionally proletariat district now undergoing large-scale structural and socio-economical change.  Development had been progressing speedily in the opening of 2017.  Individual homes and small buildings were being remodeled into casa particulaires,homes permitted by the government to host foreigners as private enterprises.  Cranes stood tall over the famed boulevards downtown.  Iconic labels from the West had opened boutiques, and a thriving restaurant and café culture abounded.  At the same time, however, particularly along the Malecón, the changes were of a more menacing kind.  Historic structures holding dozens and dozens of families are slated to be knocked down for parking structures to facilitate new hotels.  Some properties appear already abandoned, but people live in the crumbling hulks, by now stripped of marble detailing and once-exquisite ceramic tiles.  Even stairs had all but disintegrated.  Signs announcing Se vendecropped up on every block of the famed seaboard walkway.  Many were regal establishments. What will future regality look like?  Where do the inhabitants go?

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #1 (Plaza Vieja), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: 36” x 24”

An ornate landmark façade dominates a collection of bourgeois restaurants, cafés, and shops in the Plaza Vieja.  Its front windows open to the sky behind, the interior and back walls knocked out in the tradition of developers gutting structures in districts enticing to tourists.  Usually in Havana these buildings are deeply decayed, even rotting; when renewed, they will lodge none of their old inhabitants, whether familial or commercial.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.4 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”

What strikes me most powerfully: These were beautiful buildings, built of beautiful material and with a sensitive aesthetic eye.  Their beauty lasts even through decay, not because of decay.  Another word for this is romance.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.13 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print. 

Abandoned by the government—this is how persons in this building, like the persons in other buildings, describe themselves and their residences.  Everyday life will continue until someone arrives to buy the property.  No one says where they will go next.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 3.4 (La Habana Vieja), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”

Buildings crumble every day in Havana, with most left standing as-is.  What appears, and is, ruined, however, fuels infrastructure recycling in a time of limited physical resources.  People from the neighborhood, and from outside it, come in when a building is on the edge of collapse.  They strip the premises right down to sheering off the face.  What is left hovers between dilapidation and a state of having been cleansed.  It is frighteningly charming to an eye groomed in neoclassical ruin paintings of Pompeii and other mythic sites.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 5.1 (Callejon de Hamel), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  

When searching for a bakery around Callejno de Hamel, the public thoroughfare of Santería, I meet a man who swiftly offers a tour of his building, the roof of which looks out over the tourist-filled Santería alley below.  Inside the building, everyone he introduces is a practitioner of Santería; he points out the identifying beads on the left arm.  When he introduces his mother, however, I am attracted to her right arm: a collection of bangles announces an arm so muscled it appears god-like.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 7.2 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 36” x 24”

Inside these rotting structures of Havana, including ones with missing walls, pitted floors, and ceilings open to the elements, communities live.  They play music, they laugh here.  Kids play.  When I climb to the second floor of the building once decorated throughout with mosaic-paintings of Venice, a young boy calls into an apartment.  Children pour out.  They dance, they pose, they scream and giggle.  We have a mini shoot.  They know their moves.  The ways of Pop are an international language.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #13 (Calle Obispo), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print. 

At all hours, the pedestrian thoroughfare of Calle Obispo is thick with tourists.  For a long while, this Cubana stands at the edge of the sidewalk, biting her nails, listing, watching.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 1.17 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”

A boy who lives in a rotting building along the Malécon—the most derelict of those visited—gives a paid tour, delicately holding my fingers when we climb or descend marble staircases crumbling into nothing but precarious toeholds.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #41 (San Lazaro), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

Slogans reaffirming the Revolution detail walls across Havana.  I am more captivated, however, by another form of comrade and comradery. 

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 7.7 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

This inner courtyard holds one of the few intact mosaic paintings that once filled a building along the Malecón: Venice Enjoying the Music.  Most mosaic tiles of this building’s once ornate interior have been stripped whole or in part from the crumbling walls. The large apartment building, taking up a city block, soon will be razed to give way to a hotel parking structure.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 10.1 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

A hand-crafted lamp of the Eiffel Tower.  Paris is where this artist dreams of being.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #36 (Calle Galiano), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

Two young men walk into the Central Havana gun range behind me.  They lay down their pesos, load up pellet guns, and set about trying to hit the array of everyday drugstore remnants swaying from fishing wire.  They finish, discuss the results with the proprietor, then set down more pesos for another round.  In the end, few targets are hit; maybe a handful.  Is this a sign of how long ago the Revolution was, or just the reality of lousy weaponry?

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 8.5 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

Inside a building along the Malecón, clothes and plastic bags hang to dry within a tiny mudroom open to a courtyard.  The preciousness of a clean plastic bag was one of my lessons in Cuba.  This lesson is less the expected one about poverty (so, the preciousness of something disposable) but more the observation of a communal commitment to cleanliness of all things.  Havana crumbles, and debris and the smell of inadequate plumbing are everywhere, but Havana and its places, interiors, and exteriors are kept clean.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #12 (Calle Manrique), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”

A classic American car pulls off the Malecón to help out another American classic.  The men—always men—pull themselves out and set to work.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, Building 2.14 (Calle Amargura), Havana, Cuba, 2017.

Archival Pigment Print.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #37 (Calle Galiano), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

The proprietor of a gun range sits beneath a collection of printed materials.  Among the photographs and clippings is an architectural print.  The modern, sweeping lines of the skyscraper are as potently utopic as the image of a smiling Fidel.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #21 (Calle Galiano), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

A woman peers into the used furniture shop.  Having explored the interiors of broken-down buildings across Central and Old Havana, I question where these pieces of noble furniture come from.  Who owned them?  Who will buy them?  Later, when riding a cab to a dinner, I will ride through neighborhoods composed of homes and mansions so grand, luminous, and decorated, I think immediately of historic city-center mansions across the American South.  I caution myself: The topic of Havana and its development is not monolithic.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #11 (Calle Lagunas), Havana, Cuba, 2017. 

Archival Pigment Print.

The proletariat neighborhood of Central Havana experiences both government-sponsored infrastructure development and gentrification. Casas particulaires appear everywhere.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #10 (Calle San Lazaro), Havana, Cuba, 2017.

Archival Pigment Print.

The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development, #33 (Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017.

Archival Pigment Print.  Edition of 3: ​​​​​​​ 24” x 36”

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