The Old Man & the Typewriter
       
     
La playa
       
     
El banco
       
     
Las damas de honor
       
     
El guajiro
       
     
Dead or Alive
       
     
El ponchero
       
     
El vagabundo
       
     
Dominó
       
     
El heladero
       
     
El niño
       
     
The Phone-Call
       
     
El manisero
       
     
El ranchero
       
     
Window Display
       
     
Rinky: Portrait of a Dog
       
     
Sunbather
       
     
Fin de Siglo
       
     
The Old Man & the Typewriter
       
     
The Old Man & the Typewriter

I am looking at myself in the photo. Am I? Is it me? I feel myself in the depth of my throat, not in the mirror. I get along better with the blind than with the deaf and dumb. We can talk and communicate with the blind – yet the image is the body and without my body there is no thought. No conversation. Black and white seems closer to my essence but colour has so much more information. Is it all just memory, photos as recorded and decomposing, rotting memories? Evidence of time.

I look at myself in the mirror to brush my teeth and see if I am still there, alive. I also see myself in the eyes of a friend or a woman, but the image is so small in the pupil and the iris that I see Edmundo only when I get very close – and then it becomes cold tissue and invisible cells. As an adolescent I saw my mouth as a shapeless mollusk and my eyes disproportionately large, full of fear and trembling and rather small. But when I grew to be six feet two I saw myself as bigger, more secure, and others saw me as somewhat stronger.

I am typing in the photo: that I recognise. I write, therefore I am. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

La playa
       
     
La playa

Language and image, I have found, are parallel expressions; language should not be a caption for the image but a parallel window open to another landscape or a door into another detonated world. I was thinking, while taking in your photos, that they led me to different realms. Musing over the photo of children running along the shore, for example, I established a dialogue: life is always running away from us or running towards us. Cuba has both feared the ocean, pirates and plunderers came in the waves, and seen it as a way out to an impossible promised land. The pirates might painfully enrich our experience and the flight to el norte revuelto y brutal – might disappoint us. Everything is double-edged, has an edge that cuts and an edge that heals. Running along the shore has always been a dream that inhabits our vigils. Sand and water are images of time. A poem by Lorca jumps into my mind: por un anfibio sendero de cristales y laureles. Preciosa tocando viene su luna de pergamino – a real baroque metaphor for a gypsy walking along the amphibious shoreline playing her tambourine and maybe thinking it is the moon. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El banco
       
     
El banco

Children playing is the beginning. They’re doing something, entertaining the void, they’re enjoying both their bodies and their minds; and they’re learning how to live in the world.

 Children see the world and see themselves. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Las damas de honor
       
     
Las damas de honor

A photo is always a still life, or better even in Spanish: una naturaleza muerta. Only in death can we fully grasp the meaning of life. Here the shiny car becomes as significant a character as the two innocent looking frozen bridesmaids and the twisted tree in the background. All are dead and all are alive. They are no longer animated, that is moving: they belong to us, young and streamlined, always and forever. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El guajiro
       
     
El guajiro

I can’t stop going from the torn sombrero to the wounded chin. This makes an angry recrimination lodge in his eyes. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Dead or Alive
       
     
Dead or Alive

“You know why stone endures?” Pavese wrote. “Because it doesn’t feel.” Is the stone muse protecting us or leading us? The tower across the street seems to be the old Centro Asturiano; the stones for this building were brought from Spain. An igneous stone more enduring than the sedimentary and easily corrosive Cuban carso. Everything has to do with mortality. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El ponchero
       
     
El ponchero

Sometimes an absence is more powerful than a presence. The broken rearview mirror traps your eyes, tells me more than the squinting (maybe thoughtful) gaze or the cigar. The man cannot see himself nor what approaches from behind. Narcissus could, though he only cared about his own lovable image reflected in the water. Maybe it’s better not to see yourself or the past. He can only see the rusted inside of what once reflected a presence or a staking danger. Borges has told us: “mirrors and copulating are abominable because they multiply the number of men.” Looking at the photo more carefully, it seems to be the back of the rearview mirror that is missing. Am I wrong? 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El vagabundo
       
     
El vagabundo

I turned around to see him again as he walked away.
I am emotionally touched and intellectually hardened by the sight.

Are the destitute (apparently from what my eyes read) charged with meaning or do I load the image with meaning? For decades the image of poverty has made us feel guilty and morally responsible (and sometimes superior). Are the poor closer to reality, to a deeper truth? Or are we conditioned to react by social, moral or aesthetic values that have imbued us since the end of the eighteenth century? Especially writers and artists have seen an inner beauty and human truth in the conditions of the wretched of the earth. This was especially true in photography during the first half of the twentieth century. Now, it seems, this attitude has weakened in the sight of human failure to create social justice through communism and the threats of Islamic terrorism in the hands of those that have nothing to lose or surrender but their lives. We still believe in justice but less in socialism and are inclined to believe with Freud that man (even women) are evil by nature.

The poor are forced onto the streets and can easily be photographed, the rich hide in their houses. The poor are forced to scavenge and pick the garbage and be photographed. Now people prefer to photograph themselves and place these images on Facebook. This image, like the photos of Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Capa and Frank, keeps us aware of the heartrending plight of those that ironically survive thanks to our crumbs. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Dominó
       
     
Dominó

Cubans playing domino is a stereotype, a visual experience that implies wasting time, investing energy in dots on rectangles. I’m Cuban and yet I can’t dance nor do I play domino. Or just prefer not to. And yet stereotypes often carry enough truth to make them unavoidable. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El heladero
       
     
El heladero

He’s looking at you. But he’s not the cloth cap he’s wearing, nor the apron that prevents the soiling of his immaculate white shirt, nor the bocaditos or chocolate ice cream he’s selling. Is he really there? His dark eyes search for contact, for meaning outside his own image. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El niño
       
     
El niño

The little boy is hiding although he knows we can see his smile and his budding chest. We are all hiding and seeking to be found. There is a difference here; el niño is at the precarious edge of Havana, between the stone wall of the Malecón and the deep blue sea. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

The Phone-Call
       
     
The Phone-Call

Is he looking at himself in the mirror? Is he pushing aside a curtain? Is it a recent photo or twenty years old? It is not a cell-phone since I can see the spiralling cord. The title, in Spanish, and the date is the answer. It is Cuba today... 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El manisero
       
     
El manisero

Without my experience, of course, I wouldn’t be able to tell that this man is selling peanuts in paper cones. El manisero existed before the revolution and has reemerged as an enterprise during the dreams of the revolution.

Is he wearing the cap with the visor backwards due to the influence of fashions in the first world? During my adolescence in Havana no one would have worn a cap backwards, he would have been deemed crazy: the visor is supposed to protect you from the sun. Are we more creatures of fashion than of necessity? 

– Edmundo Desnoes

El ranchero
       
     
El ranchero

Is this the visual recognition of the enduring dignity of a peasant? The image of a farmhand, not a talking head. His tough hands delicately handling the end of his shirt, his torn shirt. Or is it the unchanging image of a class that still endures in Cuba, in spite of the promises of the revolution. All photos are polysemic and this one can reveal as much about the onlooker as about the subject? 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Window Display
       
     
Window Display

Are we on the street or inside the store? It confuses and envelops us, the merging of reality and fantasy. Photography is reality and reality is like photography. If you showed this image to an Indian in the Amazon jungle, what would they see, if anything? 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Rinky: Portrait of a Dog
       
     
Rinky: Portrait of a Dog

I recognise the loving sadness in this dog’s eyes and the alertness of its standing ears. How would any dog react confronted by this, let’s say, bitch’s image? I have a feeling, see a barking head.

The dog would recognise another dog by the smell – a more appropriate portrait then would be a view of the rear end he or she is eager to sniff. Canines are the only other animals on earth that have established a symbiosis with women and men. By the way, to know the gender I would have to see it urinating. I’m touched by that moment when dogs reveal ecstasy after lifting a leg or lowering its derriere to release its saffron urine.

This is the tender image of another creature also lost in the universe. We are expressed and torn by opposites. The dog is man’s best friend and although we have all heard “the more I know man the more I love my dog”, an ugly woman or a bad business deal is often referred to as “that’s a dog” and the worst days of summer are “dog days”. And in the tropics, as in Cuba, only dogs and Englishmen dare to wander the streets when the sun hits perpendicularly on everything. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Sunbather
       
     
Sunbather

The lens, I know, is being focused by male hands and eyes. It is the gaze of a macho. He sees and is not seen. A peeping tom. Women, as John Berger suggested, are to be seen. I, a pretentious photo critic, also enjoy (or gozo, a more lubricious Spanish word than “enjoy”) the power of light painting and embracing her contour and casting the shadow of her shoulders and her head on the growing rays of the fabric on which she is resting her body. The flesh is alive, the shadow creates a female monument and the rays continue to grow beyond the rectangle of the image. 

– Edmundo Desnoes

Fin de Siglo
       
     
Fin de Siglo

End of the century. I used to buy my handkerchiefs in Fin de Siglo. That fifties façade, like the prow of a vessel, seems to be ramming into the filigree of the stubborn past. 

– Edmundo Desnoes