Havana, one of the most photographed cities in the twentieth century, is the scene chosen by Adrián Fernández to develop a socio-aesthetic research from art,, but penetrating certain zones that become a new geography of the city, unknown by the media circles of information and almost untouched until today by photography. The artist lives in Havana, in Nuevo Vedado, one of the several residential quarters distanced from tourist tours and the visual clichés that photography has exalted in the group conscience to define Cuba or recognize “the Cuban”.
His photographs are an intelligent aesthetic approach – but with unavoidable sociological and anthropological connotations – to the feigned life of a scarcely known sector of Cuban society. The object of his investigation – his photographic subject – is in itself a sensible theme in the social network of the country given the evident economic differences between the photographed and the living conditions of the average population; it is also a vulnerable theme in the ideological aspect, because it denotes social differences presumably extinguished in their context.
But beyond such inferences – consciously pointed out by the artist – these photographs are the convincing representation of the “staging” of a visually exuberant cultural imagery.
Act I. The Exteriors
The artist visits the neighborhoods of Nuevo Vedado, the former Country Club and Miramar, areas that developed in the decade of the 1950’s copying the way of life of a prosperous bourgeoisie according to the comfort standards of those years. Most of the original owners left Cuba during the 1960’s and were replaced by others of very different origins and social and cultural strata. Some, very few, are the real heirs.
The photographs in this series entitled Life Style were made from a point of view that is apparently close to that of documentary photography. They are direct, frontal, synthetic images that exclude superfluous information. They place us in front of the research scene and offer us the “objective” data. They are photographs the artist chose to print in black and white, in his urge to grant them that halo of real document usually attributed to the analogical still.
The photographed objects are façades of highly watched houses, almost completely hidden by grilles, walls, thick hedges and sometimes with vigilance cameras that keep us distanced from what their inhabitants wish to protect or disguise. The careful composition of the images and their structuring in planes indicate a clear intention of delimiting spaces, of barriers, which in social terms mean delimiting the social status. This is the “up to here” that their inhabitants have physically imposed on the photographer, but which he assumes as indicator that aggravates his research acuteness. They are photographs “stolen” from the intimacy.
But I insist on the apparently documentary of these images because in fact, everything has been calculated. Nothing indicates us where, because all traces of contextual nature have been erased from the scene, or when, because they attempt to transcend the transitory. On the contrary, it is that other photographic capacity of inquiring beyond the factual.
Act III. The Interiors
The artist knows how to identify the owners of those houses and how to approach their intimacy. They have opened him some doors, but watch out: only those they wish to show.
It would seem that the photographer has achieved the owners’connivance. They have allowed him to enter that protected space and select certain angles. The owners are not at home, but the spaces where they live are there, or at least some segments of those spaces that Adrian considered sufficiently significant to be forged. We are undoubtedly in the presence of families with a living standard resulting from the superimposition of time, taste and aspirations: the already achieved, the already detained in a past time by the nostalgia, or the unattainable but recreated or assembled based on today’s possibilities, i.e., of the real historical time.
There is something in these images that suggests a malfunction. They are scenes carefully conceived by their inhabitants with the material and cultural heritage of their predecessors, but with the additions of today, attempting an aesthetic coherence that at times we feel is violated by objects that are strange to them. Decorative styles are superimposed – some are authentic examples of a certain period and status –; others enter into the scene as replacement of the originals – in an attempt to perpetuate the original aesthetics, or at least to imitate it. Each scene captured by the photographer contains a fake element and certain fatuousness that in the end we accept as authentic because they are inevitable traces of a scene that could not remain untouched with the passing of time and the circumstances. They are instants of a process of cultural mixture that reproduce on the image the social and economic mixture experienced by the country in recent decades.
These interiors are, in short, the “family portrait” that is so dear to photography as genre and to the personal history of the photographed ones.
Act III. Of Being or Seeming
In this series Adrián sharply defines the “face” of his subjects. It is the studio “portrait” that will perpetuate the ideal image summarizing his research. Here the photographer indulges in certain liberties.
The flower vases and fruit bowls were transported to his study, transformed by the artist into ideo-objects and represented with all the resources allowed by tautology: flowers on top of flowers; fruits on top of fruits; fruits and flowers on top of fruits and flowers; plastic materials coexisting with Murano glass; linen or plastic bedspreads. Everything is possible in this cultural mixture that their owners – main authors of such a stage decoration – have created to please their aesthetic tastes; therefore, everything will be possible for the artist, whose interest is to magnify them.
It is under these controlled circumstances of light, framing, top definition and neatness in the details that the represented is modeled up to certain limits. And if I say “up to certain limits” it is because the artist maintains strict respect for the real nature and the capacity of meaning of what he photographs. I refer to the fact that the photographic element in this case – flower vases and fruit bowls as protagonists – remains as preponderant and dignified in the artist’s studio as in the original house environment, confirming the saying that a good portrait is one that succeeds in capturing the psychology of the character, his inner world.
These images of inanimate objects are the climax of the process. They concentrate their history, their ethics and their aesthetics, whether original or derived. There is no doubt that they are the best elliptical face of the ones they represent.
The careful images in these photographs, whether we want it or not, give us pleasure and satisfaction. Nothing makes us reject their contents with prejudice. These images incorporate an additional decorative value to the one already possessed by the object itself, only exacerbated.
Again Adrián intelligently manipulates the cognitive capacities of the photographic image and disarms our intention of assuming a critical attitude toward the represented. The truthfulness of the document, the subjectivity of the critical judgment and the ambivalence of the aesthetic taste are clearly questioned principles in these photographs, which do not intend to deny or validate the preferences of the individuals because the senses on occasions excel judgment.
Adrián Fernández’ photographs do not invent stage decorations, they only select them; they do not modify them, only emphasize them. His photographs are the result of something that in itself is a pretension, a recreated reality, a social performance, an ideological and cultural stage decoration and a fiction underlined by the very fiction of the photograph.