To someone who knows little more about Cuba than what I learned during the Elian Gonzalez ordeal, Andrew Moore's portraits are a revelation. Collected in a new monograph, Inside Havana, Moore's large-scale color photos of the country's capital portray the metropolis in all its crumbling elegance. A city of contradictions -- where paintings by Picasso hang on peeling walls under decaying ceilings, and opulent fixtures hold court in neglected environs -- Havana is a kaleidoscope of muted pastels, its interiors a hodgepodge of architectural styles. The New York-based photographer succeeds at capturing these incongruities with a surreal aesthetic that embodies lo cubano ("the quintessentially Cuban"), as native architect and historian Eduardo Rodriguez writes in the book's introduction. In conjunction with the tome's release, a selection of Moore's photos hang in "Andrew Moore, Inside Havana," opening Nov. 7 at the Robert Koch Gallery.
Moore first visited Havana in 1998, and over the course of four years gained entry into private homes, artists' studios, theaters, universities, and other landmarks. Visually striking and technically superb, his images are not just eye candy; they're as insightful as they are beautiful, offering a window into Cuba's social conditions and alluding to the country's future. "A photograph shows us a moment frozen in time, visually unchanging, offering evidence of the way things were so that we can construct our histories from it," writes art critic Andy Grundberg in the book's preface. "Present-day Havana, with its supply of 1950s Chevrolets, modern art from the first half of the 20th century, and early-Vegas-style casino décor, is also a container of the frozen past." Shot during a critical juncture in Cuba's development, Moore's pictures invite speculation: Castro's rule won't last forever -- and what will happen to the city's skyline and its architecture when he's gone is anyone's guess.
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Focusing on interiors, Moore takes shots that are noticeably absent of people. Even when he does train his lens on living subjects, they are secondary to their surroundings, usually seen from a distance or while looking away from the camera. This is not to suggest that Cubans themselves are irrelevant to his point -- the human touch is evident in many of Moore's photos, from golf clubs and tennis rackets resting in an empty room to colorful laundry hanging from dilapidated windows and dirty dishes left in a sink. Still, Moore seems most concerned with the grand scheme of things. Perched on the precipice of change, Cuba is an "architectural Galápagos, a remarkable showcase where one can find interesting specimens in their natural state," writes Rodriguez. The epigraph to his introduction, an apt quote by Octavio Paz, is perhaps the most fitting summary of Moore's philosophy: "Architecture is the incorruptible witness of history."