Alberto Arcos: Havana in black and white
By: Ibis Frade, Photos Courtesy of Alberto Arcos
Havana , plain and simple. A city removed from its popular image, a bare and sensual metropolis; that is what seems to be one of Cuban photographer Alberto Arcos’ big passions and a recurring theme in his work.
Attached to his “old school ” ways, the “Chino Arcos”, as his friends call him, also prefers the black and white image, which he considers to have a more dramatic effect, he said to Cubaplus.
Precisely in his series Razones Ocultas (Secret Reasons) (2005), both tendencies are present and perhaps that is why he still fondly remembers it, even after several years.
He admits that during one whole year he studied the city through different eyes, looking for signs of architectural deterioration to capture and expose in this exhibition which took place in Cuba and Austria.
“I focused on the details, the general background did not interest me. In addition I used film of very low photographic intensity, a method technically knows as ASA.”
“I also concentrated on Havana during the ‘special period´, during which the economy of the country experienced very hard times, and did an exhibition on this in Madrid and Montevideo,” he adds.
“Cuba’s capital has very significant sunlight which has been very inspiring. Also, this city is like a woman who is born beautiful and continues being so without make up”.
“Havana has a silent soul, in spite of its deterioration and abandonment. It is my city, my identity, the place where I was born, where I live… and I will always return to this subject,” he says assuredly.
Arcos remains faithful to a “more classical” style because he comes from a generation inspired by analog and black and white photography. Still today he continues on this path, without rejecting the possibilities of digital.
“Black and white photography is more dramatic and has a much bigger impact. When I think of color what comes to mind is a poster, an advertisement, an almanac, or a catalogue”.
“The visual impact of the grey tones is also very much appreciated in Havana, a place so surreal and full of contrasts,” he adds.
“Although times change, poetically I feel more comfortable with analog technology. As far as I am concerned there is no replacement for film,” he says convincingly.
“From a practical point of view, digital can work. The essence takes root in what you want to express and how you want to do it. Sometimes it is not the method but only the concept that matters”.
In fact, in the collection “Ciudades del Silencio” (“Cities of Silence”), recently exhibited in the galleries of the ancient convent of San Francisco of Asís, he again uses black and white for his snapshots of the Cemetery of Christopher Columbus , this time in digital.
“ This project also includes photographs of the cemeteries Père-Lachaise (Paris) and La Recoleta (Buenos Aires). I started with one idea and later different things evolved. At first, I was looking for architectural and hereditary values, but that began to seem repetitive.
“When I got to the cemetery I realized that there was an interior world of abandonment and deterioration, and this negligence in the end is a death… that is where I directed my lens”.
“Also, what is truly important is to feel good about the work. Some artists take on their project with the intent of commercializing it rapidly. Personally, I prioritize the inspiration, that is what I enjoy and, if it sells well, all the more formidable!
“It has already been several years since I devoted myself to photography, of course I began at a young age. I was studying History at the University of Havana and was also employed there at the Department of Audio-visual Means,” recounts Alarcos.
“It became such a passion for me to the point that in the third year I left my career to take a course in photo reporting and then devoted myself for a while to documentary photography”.
“However about 15 years ago I really began to feel fulfilled when I did my first exhibitions. I owe a lot to the workshop of artistic serigraphy René Portocarrero, where my inspiration really began”.
“As said the Italian Tina Modotti, “Photography is my life, I will I never stop working, I still have many years left, and still a lot to do… ,”affirms Arcos.
“I am presently working on a collection devoted to Cuban photographers. These artists are talented and are almost always in the background. Few are known and I want to change that”.
“Up to now I have photographed the hands and faces of about 25 of my colleagues. In the past I did similar work with famous musicians who smoked tobacco,” he indicates.
“I live life with great optimism. Photography has been a great part of my existence and I am happy to create and live in Cuba”.
“To the young people who are beginning in this profession I advise them to work hard and always look for inspiration. Korda said that skill is learned in two or three months, but the truly important thing is that which is “invisible is to the eyes,” Arcos believes.
“Perfection is all about personal achievement, that which fills your heart with poetry”.