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Alex Harris

January 31 - May 8, 2009
Artist's Talk, Book Signing and Opening Reception: January 31, 5:00-7:30pm
Curator's Gallery Talk: February 19, 1:00pm
Lillian Guerra - A Cuba History: March 18, 6:30pm

Alex Harris
Angel with star, Christopher Columbus Cemetery, Havana, October 2003

"The images in this book and exhibition are seductive and powerful and the voice that conveys its stories both vulnerable and compelling, much like Cuba itself."

—Lillian Guerra, assistant professor of Caribbean history, Yale University

This remarkable journey into contemporary Cuba by photographer and writer Alex Harris is at once a powerful and mysterious evocation of life on the island and at the same time an original meditation on the nature of documentary photography. On each trip to Cuba, Harris chose a different camera, a new theme, and a distinct approach to peer deeper into the fabric of Cuban society and to show us the sides of Cuba that outsiders rarely see.

Like his mentor, Walker Evans, who photographed Cuba in 1933 at a pivotal political moment, Harris arrived at a crossroads in Cuban history. Well known for his extensive photographic work in the Hispanic Southwest, Alaska, and the American South, Harris made three trips to Cuba to photograph a nation still coming to grips with the economic and social devastation that followed the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989, a nation beginning to imagine a future without Fidel Castro.

In the foreground of Harris's photographs are some of the archetypes of contemporary Cuban life: the indomitable 1950's American car, the beautiful young woman, and the revered revolutionary hero. Yet Harris recasts these symbols. We don't look at the car, but through it to consider the tangled relationship between Cuba and the United States. His portraits of young women challenge us to consider the nature of our gaze and to see the changing status of Cuban women in relation to Fidel's political survival. The Cuban hero, José Martí, a repeated icon in Harris's photographs, evokes Martí's constant physical and spiritual presence for the Cuban people.

Alex Harris is a founder of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and of DoubleTake magazine, which he edited for the first twelve issues. He is the author or editor of fourteen books, including River of Traps with writer William deBuys, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction. He has curated a number of major exhibitions including South Africa: The Cordoned Heart (with Margaret Sartor), which opened at ICP in New York and toured the country for a decade. Harris has exhibited widely and his photographs are in numerous museum collections including The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Harris' awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography, a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship, and a Lyndhurst Award. Harris has taught at Duke for over three decades and is currently a professor of the Practice of Public Policy and Documentary Studies at Duke University. Alex Harris is represented by Ann Stewart Fine Art

This exhibition was organized with The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University and in association with the publication of The Idea of Cuba by the University of New Mexico Press and CDS Books.
The photographer wishes to thank Kevin Miller and the staff of the Southeast Museum of Photography, Luly Duke at Fundación Amistad, and CDS colleagues Tom Rankin, Lynn McKnight, Alexa Dilworth, and Bonnie Campbell.

Click here to download the exhibition wall text in pdf format

"I know much more now about Cuba than I did when I made these photographs. But I do not believe that I could now make better pictures. This exhibition is an act of faith in myself as a photographer to discover something in my pictures I didn’t already know or feel, something I wasn’t already looking for." —Alex Harris

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Calle 23 between 4 and 6, Vedado, Havana, October 16, 2002, from the Marti series Primera between C and D, Vedado, looking west from Jorge Félix Gainza Duran’s 1951 Plymouth, Havana, May 25, 1998, from the Cars series Sisters, October 2003, from the Women series
Installation Images:
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