Alejandro Alfonso, Seeing Through Other Eyes
By Beatriz Laffita
Alejandro Alfonso is a young photographer who fell into the art like may others in his profession out of enjoyment, or more precisely out of an incessant need to scrutinize his surroundings. Gradually as he became more interested in turning this hobby into something more than just a pastime, he also became obsessed with learning its technical side. Today he retains this thirst for acquiring not just technical skill but also the knowledge and experience that will allow him to grow creatively.
So, feeling his way along a path that swung between taking pictures for fun and something much more serious, he took his first steps towards cementing a desire to make photography his job.
A considerable part of Alfonso’s work centres on street photography, natural for someone who has always been drawn to capturing whatever catches his eye. It is probably more down to this natural instinct, than any inspiration brought on by the plethora of urban contrasts that is Havana, that his photographs bear the distinctive mark of two greats of Cuban documentary photography over the past two decades: the acclaimed Raúl Cañibano and the younger but also experienced Arien Chang.
The influence of the first can be seen in the provocative and expressive prominence of shadows in some of Alfonso’s shots. From both he has learnt the art of composition, drawing on the various artistic tools unique to photography to take images from a perspective without cliché: a view of the Havana coastline, a neighbourhood street corner, an abandoned interior devoid of life or spirit of any kind, a sunset. In a subtle way he captures the unreality of reality, in scenes that form part of daily life and generally pass by unnoticed. Only when they are frozen in time do they draw attention, with the dose of surrealism they administer.
He holds great respect for these two photographic forebears, he embodies a communion of their artistic positions, he has an empathy born of the direction he has received from them over many years. And these influences all contributed to the birth of his innovative project: El Local (www.ellocalhavana.com).
El Local is a studio gallery showcasing the diverse contemporary Cuban photography scene through personal and collective exhibitions along with an annual tribute to a distinguished Cuban image maker. The first was dedicated to Alfredo Sarabia (senior), an icon of Cuban photography to whom this magazine has also dedicated a series of features and whose name is borne by one of the country’s most important photography awards, the Alfredo Sarabia Biennale.
This project and his own work take up most of Alejandro Alfonso’s time and creative energy. His personal work is currently taking off in an intentionally new direction. After several years of focusing on largely the same themes, a two-person exhibition held as part of last year’s Noviembre Fotográfico in Havana sparked a change of tack for Alfonso towards exploring new thematic horizons. Images he would previously have rejected are arousing new interest. Landscapes and portraits, formats he rarely touched before, now have greater prominence. In fact Alfonso says he isn’t interested at the moment in identifying with any particular subject matter. Instead he wants to set out on a search for something much more intimate. This intimacy is to some extent based on a return to film photography and the art of developing images in the lab.
And this move towards something much more personal certainly shows in the lyricism that is more than evident in his most recent work. It is marked by an intentional distinction between black and white, and colour, and between the detail and the wider picture. Where in the past his images emphasized the suggestion brought by the focus of the lens or another technical device, he is now giving more weight to composition within the frame. This is not to say he has abandoned the skills that come with technical knowledge but in this new phase, rather than letting technical skills take the lead, he is using them to enhance the image.
This new work is taking shape and is sure to be much talked about in the future. Above all, art like Alejandro Alfonso’s work gives us a gift: the chance to look at our surroundings through new eyes.