Coffee, bagels and a whole stack of beautiful vintage prints from Cuba in 1968. So good to catch up with Shawn Walker, one of Harlem's great photographers.
When I completed my studies at Hebrew University I decided to move to Tel Aviv for a year and make some money to help pay for an MFA at SVA in New York. Where Jerusalem was sublime, mystical and volatile, Tel Aviv was a laid back, open and fun-loving Mediterranean city.
Those days I worked three jobs: waiting on tables, translating and taking freelance photography gigs where I could find them. On a rare day off, I would grab a good book and find a table at one of the small sea-side cafes. I would order something simple and inexpensive, top things off with a sweet and aromatic Turkish coffee.
When we moved to Harlem a few years ago, we found Silvana's, a small Israeli cafe that reminds me so much of that casual Tel Aviv vibe. Easy to spend a Saturday afternoon here.
The exhibition "Confluencias" celebrating 10 years of Trasatlantica PhotoEspaña opened last night in São Paulo's SESC Vila Mariana. Proud to have images from my series YONKEROS included. Photos courtesy of my Guatemalan friend and colleague Luis Milian - whose work is also featured in the show.
The day after coming back to NYC from Havana, I got a text from Jason Eskenazi. Although these days he calls Istanbul home, I was not entirely surprised to hear from Jason, knowing he was in town to promote the release of The Americans List II, for which I had contributed a short essay.
The text simply said: You're Jewish right?
I replied that indeed I was of that most exotic variety, the Guatemalan Jew.
He replied: we are taking a group shot with Robert Frank and other New York Jewish photographers at 7 Bleeker Street.
An hour and a half later I was standing in a tight huddle with some distinguished colleagues and friends for that portrait. It was shot by John Trotter, who with his usual wit referred to himself as our Shabbos Goy. After the portrait Robert asked his wife, June Leaf, for a camera and took a photo for himself. Clearly, the moment meant something to him as well.
And then we all had a chance to meet the great master and exchange a few words with him. Robert is now 93 years old. I have admired his work since I was in my teens. To grasp his hand in mine, look into his eyes and have a moment together was was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'll treasure the memory of it for many years to come.
Later, over drinks at a neighborhood watering hole I asked Jason about the portrait. He said, a couple days earlier Frank had spoken to a few friends about how proud he was of his Jewish heritage. The portrait was a spontaneous response to that conversation. It was shot on Saturday March 11th, which happened to be the festival of Purim.
Today I had a chance to view Pieter Hugo's "1994" exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery. The title references the year of the Rwandan genocide. Hugo photographed children born after that year. In many cases they are posed directly seated or reclining on the ground. Overall, the portraits come across as tender and hopeful, and yet there is an ominous quality to them as well. The clothing worn by the children can have a jarring and surreal effect; the ground enshrouds them like an open grave.
As I viewed these incredible portraits I couldn't help superimposing them onto another set of images: Gilles Peress' iconic document of the tragic events of 1994, which I printed repeatedly for his exhibitions when I worked for him in 1996/7.
I hope the future has better things in store for these kids than the past did for the previous generation.
One hundred and two years later...
Last Sunday, when I took the photograph on the left, I had an uncanny feeling. Later the realization hit me: I had wandered into the same vantage point as Paul Strand did in 1915 when he gazed out on a group of pedestrians raked by morning light.
I'm working on my first exhibition in Eastern Europe: recent images from Cuba at the Kaunas Photo Festival.
Vilnius and Kaunas were the two most important cities for Jewish life in Lithuania. Before the Holocaust there were more than a quarter million Jews living in the country. Vilnius alone had over 150 synagogues - of which only one was spared destruction. My own family came from Poland and Belarus, neighboring countries to the south.
So on one level, this is a photographic journey. On another, it is a personal and sentimental journey as well. Grateful for the opportunity.
If I can find cheap tix, I'm on a plane to Lithuania next week!
For an artist who lives far away from his place of birth, it is always a special feeling to return to the home country with a solo exhibition. This was certainly the case for me in presenting "Before the Eclipse" during the month of June at Galeria Panza Verde in Antigua, Guatemala. The gallery itself has two separate spaces, which inspired me to present images from two different cities: Havana and Beijing.
Opening Night was beautiful and well-attended. In the following weeks there was important coverage in the media, including a full page interview in Prensa Libre, Guatemala's largest daily, and an interview during the prime time news for Telediario Canal 3.
It's good to feel the love when you go back home!
Packing bags for Cuba!
Our second SVA Destinations Digital Photography Workshop sold out once again and we're heading to Havana for a week of cultural and photographic immersion. I'll be teaching this workshop in tandem with my esteemed colleague and fellow Faculty member Alex Garcia.
If you're interested in joining us in the future, drop me a line and I'll add you to our Mailing List. More info here.
Yesterday I attended the New York Times Portfolio Review with an all-Cuba portfolio. Some of the work - like this photograph of a despondent, newly-married couple - was shot barely a couple weeks ago.
Out of the 2500 photographers who applied 160 were accepted. It's truly a world-class gathering of photographers, editors and curators. Some of my colleagues came from far away as India, Africa or Asia.
Doorbell rings at 8AM. I get up from my cup of coffee and ask through the door who is it. "Cuba". That is, my 85 year old downstairs neighbor Don Nico, who is dressed impeccably in a button down guayabera, freshly pressed slacks and a cotton cap. He looks like he may just take a stroll to the Malecon this chilly winter morning. Except he comes bearing gifts: six tubes of Colgate and a CD he recorded for me with three albums by one of my favorite Cuban crooners Beny More.
Made my day.
Once in a while, I couldn't help myself. There were certain books in my father's beautiful library that I had to keep close to me and couldn't bear to return to their rightful place. One such book was "Exiles" by Josef Koudelka. 'My' copy since the early teenage years, the book has been my constant companion in different continents throughout the decades: Guatemala, Jerusalem, Europe, New York.
Frederic Brenner's epic exhibition project "This Place" opened last night at the Brooklyn Museum. It is a unique gathering of some of the world's greatest photographers in an exploration of Israel and Palestine. Two of them I count as dear friends, Jungjin Lee and Rosalind Solomon. Years ago, I printed books and exhibitions for Gilles Peress. Legendary photographers one and all.
Last night I finally had the chance to spend time with my childhood hero, Josef Koudelka. And in this photograph, I look happy as only kids know how to be.
My book YONKEROS (La Fabrica Editorial, Madrid, 2013) as seen at Livraria Cultura on Avenida Paulista in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The photo was sent to me by my former and very talented student Patricia Montrase!
I'm still trying to come to terms with my experience of Beijing. The city made a deep impression on me. On the one hand, it stretches so far back into the splendors of history that you feel like you are witnessing the origins of culture. On the other, it projects forward into the future as a cautionary tale, with intimations of a post-apocalyptic era and of the last cities on earth.