Cuba has long presented a radically different version of a North American dream—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 devastation of Hurricane Harvey later that year. A rapprochement had begun briefly between my country and theirs, I went to the country 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, particularly along the Malecón. Development has been progressing speedily in the opening of 2017. Historic structures holding 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 gone. Signs announcing Se vende crop up on every block. Many were regal establishments. What does future regality look like? Where do the inhabitants go?
“The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development” is comprised of 25 photographs combining image and text (“field notes”). Its aesthetic approach plays with the codes of neoclassical ruin painting. Within that painting tradition, ruins are utopian, just as modern Cuba has always been a utopian endeavor. A solo exhibition of the series is planned for July 2018 in Oklahoma City.