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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vibrant lives, 21 Oct 2010
This review is from: Fortunate Steps: Havana: In the Calzada Del Diez De Octubre (Dewi Lewis Publishing) (Hardcover)
It seems extraordinary that John Comino-James's photographs of Cuba have not been more widely seen and reviewed. This is his second book of photographs of Havana. Like the first, 'A Few Streets, a Few People', the book is as remarkable for its integrity, honesty and energy as it is for the quality of photography. As in that earlier book, the photographer has chosen to explore a small area of the great city; in this instance a single road, the Calzada del Diez de Octubre.

The blurb for the book claims that Comino-James `creates an intimate and sympathetic record of the Calzada del Diez de Octubre'. Whilst it does indeed do that, it also achieves a great deal more: it offers powerful and moving images of people going about their daily lives. The photographs honour the subjects. They do not judge, do not romanticise nor glamorise. The people photographed here are treated with respect and dignity. When we see images of decay - crumbling facades, cracked paving, battered 1950s American cars - they do not come accompanied by even the faintest whiff of nostalgia. The subjects here are the people who live in this world. They are a vibrant part of their environment; and that is what the book explores and celebrates. There is no place in their lives for nostalgia.

The book struggles to offer a sense of the contexts within which these people live their lives: social, cultural, historical, geographical and (without directly referring to it) political. I use the word `struggle' in the most positive way, in the sense that this engagement with multiplying contexts is ever present. As is evident in the very fine essay that accompanies the photographs, Comino-James is painfully aware that he is an outsider engaging with an unfamiliar world, and struggling to make sense of it. The `widescreen' format of the photographs is fascinating in this respect, allowing and sometimes encouraging us to make our own juxtapositions, to see things right before us, straight ahead, as it were, and yet to notice tiny details, out of the corners of our eyes.

Individually, the photographs are beautifully composed and produced, fine and
memorable images in their own right; but it is worth adding that the book as a whole has been beautifully produced, printed to the highest standards and laid out in such a way that the collection and sequencing of the images creates a work in which the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

I cannot recommend it too highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An alternative view of Cuba., 21 Oct 2010
This review is from: Fortunate Steps: Havana: In the Calzada Del Diez De Octubre (Dewi Lewis Publishing) (Hardcover)
A popular destination for global tourists, Cuba is often the subject of photography books, but like the tours which spawn them the resulting books often appear to be the result of an altogether too hurried, unconsidered enterprise. Images snatched from brief visits to unfamiliar locations lack the involvement of a deeper understanding, only possible when freed from the constraints of time and coupled with the need to visually explore.
Fortunate Steps is different and is the result of a quiet and dedicated documentation of an area of Havana largely unknown to tourists: one road, the Calzada del Diez de Octubre. This is the works strength.
Ordinarily one would never notice or visit this place as it typifies normality, the population just living the daily events played out in all our lives be it Havana or Paris. It is these moments which John Comino-James acknowledges and celebrates in his photographs. Against the backdrop of a gradually disappearing colonial architecture whose project was arrested, lives are eloquently portrayed. You will not find nostalgic tourist nonsense here, only the visual beauty of understated life stories.
Through an acknowledgment and mutual respect built over time, the photographer has been allowed to interact with his subjects, his presence often felt through the gaze or smile of those depicted. The close proximity of the photographer while recording events in these lives perhaps joyful or tragic is the result of a deep engagement derived from a familiarity with the place and its people.
Throughout the pages of this book I was haunted by chronology. Not only in the obviously worn nature of the infrastructure but also on the faces of the elderly inhabitants who have endured time and know the real truths and in the naive confidence of the young hungry for a change. This often typified through the salvation promised in the iconography of popular western culture.
The format of the XPan derived images in this work demand an intense scrutiny which reinforces the importance of the edge of the frame in the wide compositions. As well as a beautiful portrait of a quiet corner of Havana and its people this book is a useful lesson in photographic seeing.
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Fortunate Steps: Havana: In the Calzada Del Diez De Octubre (Dewi Lewis Publishing)
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