The Havana portraits are part of a long-term project
that I have been pursuing for a number of years, first
in Mexico, then in Rome, recently in Havana. The project
was inspired by my first contact with the work of the
Mexican portraitist Ermenegildo Bustos.
My way of working was to set up my small studio, then
go out into the street and see who looked interesting
to me. Very simple. These pictures were made in a neighbourhood
in Old Havana, where I was welcomed warmly and made to
feel quite at home.
In the past I think that I worked hard in my photography
to frame some kind of meaning that I was interested in.
But in these new photos my approach was more reflective
of a kind of Taoist wu wei, or non-doing. The term is
one that we in the West often take to mean inaction. In
fact it means something closer to allowing action, a moment
or string of moments, to occur without trying to direct
it, while still being highly conscious of what is happening.
It assumes that everything has it's own internal trajectory,
I suppose in the end it's about cultivating awareness,
from which still more awareness can arise. I want the
awareness because it expands me. I want to become the
awareness. The rest is just a box of pictures.
My hope for the pictures is that they will prevent the
mind, the viewer's or mine, from snapping right into the
usual habits of responding to a portrait. I want the viewer
to hang in a place of awareness for as long as possible
without concluding, in the hope that they¹ll have
a longer experience than they expect to.
My friend John Paul Caponigro once asked me "What
is revealed in these portraits?" I hadn't thought
of that question when doing the work, and I don¹t
have a simple answer now. I know I didn't want to flatter
these people or represent them as some idea of mine. I
guess I just wanted to be with them and take the moment
seriously and see what might come of that, what we might
make together. The work was direct and experiential, and
the pictures are a byproduct, the shavings of a process
done in a state that was both abandoned and very disciplined.
This has made for work that arises from me and at the
same time tells me things I don't know.
Obviously it's quite a portable project and an open-ended
one. And I count on the momentum that a project generates
to carry it on. To where? Well, I'd like to do miners
in Siberia, indigenous people in the Andes, and perhaps
upper class New Yorkers. And I did some preliminary work
with the mentally handicapped, which I found very challenging.
I'd love to go further with that.
In the end, though, I simply hope to open my eyes and