Anna Mia Davidson: Cuba: Black and White

Image of Anna Mia Davidson: Cuba: Black and White
Release Date: 
March 11, 2016
Reviewed by: 

Anna Mia Davidson’s Cuba Black and White sheds light on the quality of life of the average person in Cuba by showing us their casual activities in streets, barber shops, and gyms, as well as their church rituals, maternity wards, and the struggles in the lives of the campesinos, or country folk. Although the images were photographed over 15 years ago, the lifestyle shown and the lack of amenities remain a constant.

There is a rich legacy of “street” or candid work in the history of photography, and it is easy to draw superficial parallels from Davidson’s work to the work of others such as Brassaï, Andre Kértész, Walker Evans, or Henri Cartier-Bresson—all of whom also worked in black and white.

Undoubtedly, photographing in the country of your birth or in a city you are intimately familiar with, as in the work of Cartier-Bresson, has its advantages. Seattle-based Davidson was a young photographer 25 years of age when she took her first trip to Cuba. Although commendable in terms of passion and dedication, not all of Davidson's images in Cuba Black and White have the impact of the aforementioned photographers.

Indeed there are some images that strike the note of the tourist in a foreign land. But the majority of images are impressive, displaying commitment, gravity, and a style that gives one pause and makes the viewer thoughtfully consider the plight of the people or their state of mind when they were photographed. Davidson shows the same empathetic insight that characterized the work of W. Eugene Smith, which is remarkable for a young photographer.

Often her images find the balance of being graphically stunning while displaying psychological insight through a pose or expression, such as the images of the young woman in Havana plaza (Havana, 2000), her head downcast as in shame or deep in thought; or the intently focused tuba player in “Remedios” (2003); or the young woman fawning over a bare-chested, gray-haired, muscular man (Havana, 1999).

Sadly, several images disappoint by being printed across the book’s “gutter” where they lose impact through the disruptive two-page spread. The book would have also benefitted from a greater degree of editing of selections. But overall the book brings together an intriguing array of images in depicting life in Cuba at the turn of a new century. 

Included in the book is Davidson’s journal (1999–2003) that reveals her feelings and contemplations during her journeys to Cuba. It is easy to see why a young person enamored with the spirit of revolution and questioning the morality of the U.S. embargo of Cuba would be compelled to travel to the island. It is also clear that once there Davidson fell in love with the culture and the people of Cuba and wanted to call attention to their way of life.

The book’s printing is of classic beauty with deep blacks and luscious tonalities printed on a semi-matte paper that shows no glare and has brilliant whites. The paper is of a substantial weight and has a luxurious feel with expert binding. Clearly, Steidl's printing is masterful and they have spared no expense in producing this volume.