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By Suzanne Révy, Associate Editor
A classic 35mm Leica camera with black and white film is a fine formula for some photographic magic. In the hands and eyes of Susan S. Bank, these straightforward tools have produced an impressive portfolio of images made in Cuba at the start of the 21st century. A selection from Bank’s two series made there, Cuba: Campo Adentro and Cuba: Piercing the Darkness are on view at the Leica Gallery in Boston until September 9, 2018.
In Cuba:Camp Adentro, Bank photographed the daily life of tobacco farmers in the remote countryside, far from where most photographers travel in Cuba. Working intuitively over several years, the resulting portfolio is an intimate and empathetic portrait of a community that lives and works close to nature. She reveals the basic humanity of her subjects in carefully observed, mysterious, in-between moments.
In “Guillermo en capa”, for instance, a man stands near a small ramshackle home wearing a rain poncho and straw hat which obscures his face but reveals a hand that has known hard work. “The Healer” offers an interior view of a man lying supine on a bed under the gentle touch of a healer as a horse passes by an open air window. The striking triangular relationship between three living figures bathed in beautiful window light endows the image with an emotional charge.
In the series Cuba: Piercing the Darkness, Bank explored urban areas of Havana with the same deft precision as Cartier-Bresson. “José’s Peluqueria” is a layered view of a hair salon – complete with gestures that mimic religious imagery – that somehow brings Henri Cartier-Bresson’s image “Alicante, Spain 1932” to mind. “Denora in Noon Shadows” depicts a person seated in the doorway by a narrow sidewalk, smoking as a small dog keeps watch. It is a simple moment of pleasure cloaked in shadows and smoke. Bank seems to be peeling away romantic notions of Havana with unique glimpses of the quotidian. Her particularly strong eye for fleeting light finds its full expression in her richly rendered gelatin silver prints.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: Cuba: Piercing the Darkness
The Leica Gallery will be hosting a talk with Susan S. Bank and Constantine Manos on September 6, 2018 at 6pm.