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Cultural Visions Part Four: Cuba Rising

February 5, 2017

I am seeing so many beautiful portfolios from Cuba these days, especially on www.socialdocumentary.net and their magazine, ZEKE. All these pictures got me inspired to scan some more negatives from my time in Cuba 15 years ago. All photos ©Frank Ward, except the last one ©Susan S. Bank. Previously, I published pictures about Cuba here.havanaskylinesm

View of Havana from El Morro, 2002.

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A hitchhiker along the Malecon.

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Gas station, Havana.

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Solitude and Havana fit together like the pages of a great novel.

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The above b/w photos are from Santiago de Cuba, a few hours drive from Havana.

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A welder taking a break from his work. Below, the bust of Cuban poet Jose Marti.

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My Cuba work was done over a three week period in 2002. Susan S. Bank has been photographing Cuba for decades. I recently wrote a review of her book, Piercing the Darkness, picturing her output from 1999 to 2010.

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Bank’s Cover photo for Piercing the Darkness.

My review for ZEKE Magazine:

A photo book is such a precious object in this age of picture-saturated cyberspace. At its best, the photo book stands as an artist’s statement in dialog with history. In the case of Susan S. Bank’s Piercing the Darkness, not only is the book a beautifully designed and sequenced telling of the first ten years of the 21st century in Cuba, it is a highly personalized view created with 20th century intent, style and processes. Bank’s Leica, her black and white film and her choice of lenses create a world apart from her contemporaries’ colorful Cuba travelogues. I have never seen Havana with so few old cars. Bank also skirts the seductive pleasure of the elegant, decayed architecture. The Malecón, Havana’s boulevard along the bay, is in only a few compositions. Her camera prefers to look down at the pavement and into the buildings. Fortunately, Bank does acknowledge the thousands of dogs to whom Cuba has granted the freedom to roam.

Piercing the Darkness begins in shadow. We see slumped workers with backs turned in chiaroscuro. Faces are hidden or masked. Bank masterfully photographs arms and hands, letting them direct the viewer’s eye across the frame. Many pictures are about Cubans in contact, sizzling with gesticulation and assertion. Bank is present when they argue or embrace, and often, these vignettes reveal the scars of Cuba’s crimes committed in the name of ideology.

I found myself viewing each page like a detective at a crime scene. The details unfold slowly, and the most telling evidence lies in the shadows. She certainly named her collection wisely. Like Robert Frank’s Americans, Bank’s Cubans are people with a shared mythology best expressed through their sense of solitude. We are viewing the work of an artist who knows her subject well and refuses to make simple pictures about complex lives. Bank is not telling the story of Cuba; she is telling the story of humanity through pictures of Cuba.

Cultural Visions Part Three: His Holiness the Dalai Lama as Kalachakra

December 31, 2016

hhdl103Photos by Frank Ward, Thomas Laird and Bill Hamilton (We worked as Research Group Triangle and I don’t recall which pictures are whose).

My first direct experience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism came in January 1974 at the Kalachakra Initiation in Bodh Gaya, India. This was the third Kalachakra given outside of Tibet and the first that matched the crowds of the first Kalachakra empowerment given by the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1954. Over 100,000 practitioners converged to experience this tantric initiation next to the tree descended from the original Bodhi tree- the tree under which Siddartha Gautama first became Buddha, the enlightened one. That was around the year 589 BCE.

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The Bodhi tree is at the top of this picture, thousands of monks are seated before His Holiness.

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On January 3rd to 14th, 2017, the 34th Kalachakra Initiation will take place in Bodh Gaya. This time they expect well over 200,000 attendees. The teachings are free and open to everyone. Register at the website so they know you are coming.

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The Mahabodhi Temple adjacent to the Bodhi Tree.

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Kalachakra, 43 years ago, represented the beginning of a major shift for me. This initiation became an experience of consummate clarity. I did my first vipassana meditation retreat a week or so later, and a couple of months after that Tom, Billy and I were in residence at Takshindu Monastery in the Himalayas, renting a house for $4.00 a month.

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During Kalachakra, evenings are a time for lighting candles, lots of them.

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Tonight, New Year’s Eve, is an appropriate time for candles to illuminate the consummate clarity we all need to make our way through 2017.

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Cultural Visions Part Two: Portraits from Tibet

December 4, 2016

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In the 1990s, I took three trips to Tibet. Above- Man in a Basket, 1994.

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Chinese military at the Lhasa Airport, 1992.

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Man at the Latrine in the Lhasa Ghetto, 1992

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Girl with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Photo, 1992

I gave the picture to her in exchange for her portrait. This photo and most of the following pictures were made with my 8X10 inch view camera (70 pounds of equipment). Below, Tibetans taking a look through my dark cloth, 1992.

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West Gate, Lhasa, 1994.

This was the celebrated entry point leading into the heart of Lhasa. When the Chinese invaded in the 1950s, they blew up the ancient gate allowing their tanks into Tibet’s largest city . In the 90s, the former gate was still a flashpoint. Tibetans would string prayer flags across the road almost every night. The Chinese soldiers would tear them down during the day.

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Rambo guards the door to a Lhasa tea house, 1994

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Pool Players with the Potala in the Background, 1994.

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Monks in the Gyantse Kumbum, 1992

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Lama Gyurme at Dreprung Monastery outside of Lhasa. 1992.

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Girl from Amdo near the Lukhang Temple behind the Potala, 1992.

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Mother and Child on the Ferry to Samye Monastery, 1994.

More of my pictures from Tibet:

www.socialdocumentary.net/photographer/frankward

It is time for Social Documentary Network’s Call for Entries. This is an opportunity to have your photo work reviewed by some of the world’s top practitioners, photo editors and all around humanitarians. Show us pictures that matter.

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Nuns in their temple in Lhasa, 1998.

Cultural Visions Part One: Himalaya

November 20, 2016

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Monk, Ladakh, India, 1974

Back in the ’70s, Thomas Laird, Bill Hamilton and I formed Research Group Triangle. We were supported in part by an Italian philanthropist in Geneva, Switzerland. Our mandate was to document Buddhist culture in India and Nepal. Over a period of several months,  we photographed, filmed and recorded audio in Buddhist temples, hermitages and monasteries.

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Listening to the ting-shah, Bodhanath, Nepal, 1979

Five years later, in 1978, I returned to Asia with my wife, Vivian Leskes and spent several more months with the Sherpas and Tibetans.

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Group Portrait, Junbesi Temple, Solu, Nepal, 1974

I’m the guy with the beard and Tom is standing behind me.

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Funeral, Junbesi, 1979

A sick woman arrived in Junbesi one evening trying to get to her Buddhist teacher, Tulshig Rimpoche, before dying. She didn’t make it. She is on the right tied to heavy stones for a river burial. She did not have the money for a traditional sky burial. The ritual was performed by a village lama, with chendar drum in the foreground, and Nyingma Dzogchenpa Lhakpa Drolma, the funeral shaman, reciting prayers to the left. Vivian is sitting on a rock in the background.

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Nyingma Dzogchenpa Lhakpa Drolma at the Dumji Festival, Junbesi, Nepal, 1979

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Takshindu Lama Leshe in his Monastery apartment, Solu Region, Nepal, 1974

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A puja in a village home, Solu Region, Nepal, 1974

The monks and lamas often supported themselves by performing ceremonies for villagers.

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Annual Dumji Festival, Junbesi, Nepal, 1979

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Monk and Chung-Chung at the Kalachakra Empowerment, Bodhgaya, India, 1974

My first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my first experience with Tibetan Buddhism happened at this Kalachakra Tantra ceremony soon after I first arrived in India.

9monk-eyes This initiation took place in a field beside the Bodhi Tree. The original place of the Buddha’s enlightenment 2500 years ago.

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I will continue this series of my early photography of Tibetan culture with a posting about three trips I made to Tibet in the 1990s. Thanks for looking.

HOLYOKE>ZEKE>CUBA

October 11, 2016

THE MAGAZINE OF GLOBAL DOCUMENTARY

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My HeyLook HoLyoke show is now off of the gallery walls. If you want to see an article about it, and me, look here.

ZEKE has just released their fall issue in digital and print. I am on the ZEKE Advisory Board and I say, we need more subscribers to help keep documentary growing. Check it out here. In the most recent issue, I review two books about two cultures. Here is the first review.

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Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 9.14.46 PM copy.jpgOnce in awhile a book comes along that is so beautiful to look at and so painful to contemplate that the mind gets entangled somewhere between the art of seeing and the subject matter being seen. In Paula Bronstein’s devastating Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear, what is seen is not all about beauty. It is often shameful, criminal, repellent, and it is mesmerizing.

Afghanistan, with its open deserts and looming mountains, is stunning. The population, comprising about 14 ethnic groups, would offer a dream casting call for any Hollywood movie. Afghanistan’s recent history, beginning with the Russian invasion of 1978 and continuing through the regime of the Taliban and into an unclear future, presents an endless unraveling of despicable events. Both Kim Barker’s Foreword and the Introduction, “Afghan Women,” by Christina Lamb provide some much needed comprehension of Bronstein’s heart piercing photographs.

Kim Barker describes the pictures as “arresting,” “inspiring,” “contradictory,” “compelling,” and “complicated.” Barker also says of Afghanistan that, “Photographs are almost the only way to prove the reality of life there.” Rather than “reality,” Bronstein’s pictures seem more like a fine art re-enactment of an Old Testament fable during the aftermath of World War III. That is not a criticism. Bronstein’s visual effort is the most successful illumination of Afghanistan’s ongoing circumstances yet published. To quote Bronstein’s question from her Afterword, “If conflict is all you ever experience, can happiness ever be defined without it?” Under such circumstances, one could also ask, can beauty ever be defined without it?

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Waiting in line, Coppelia, Havana, 2002. Possibly the largest ice cream parlor in the world.

All Cuba photos by Frank Ward

There is a great portfolio about Cuba by several artists in the new ZEKE. The above picture is not included, but there are wonderful, more recent pictures that you should check out. I have not shown my Cuba panoramas in decades. Now’s the time.

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Spandex, Havana, 2002

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Vegetable Market, Havana, 2002

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Pio Lindo, Havana, 2002

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Cafe, Havana, 2002

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Cigar Factory, Cuba, 2002. Cuban cigar factories are places of higher learning. During work someone is assigned to read one of the great books of literature. Anna Karenina anyone?

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Trinidad de Cuba, 2002

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Visiting the Pinar Family, Cuba, 2002

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Playing Ball, Trinidad de Cuba, 2002

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Photographer taking our portrait, Havana, 2002

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Here is the photographer’s portrait of Vivian and me with several friends. We sat on the stairs of the Capitolio, and because the photographer couldn’t get the dome in his picture he added the capital’s dome in-camera. I also have the paper negative which was developed inside his box camera.

The Ultimate Holyoke

September 5, 2016

1McNuget4056The HeyLook HoLyoke show is open as of Sept 6. There will be 2 receptions. First, on Wednesday, Sept 14th from 11-1:00 with an artist’s talk at noon. And then, Thursday evening, Sept. 15th, from 5:30-7:30 for those who have jobs during the day.

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Two pictures (not in the show) from the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2006.

HeyLook HoLyoke is not the Ultimate Holyoke, that is Holyoke itself. These pictures represent what I love about photography- the medium’s ability to create a 2 dimensional rendering that looks like something in our world. In this case Holyoke. This Holyoke of photographs is no ordinary Holyoke. The distortion of optics and camera really contribute to making these pictures my fragile Holyoke. And it is true that parts of habitat Holyoke are crumbling before my eyes.

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Holyoke Community College is a Holyoke on the hill. It is a great place that has similar issues to the old Pulp City. Primarily, the infrastructure is crumbling. In January 2017, we will close our black and white and color chemical darkrooms for 2 years of renovations to our large Campus Center. And that’s just one piece of a complicated network of issues.

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What HCC does have are truly worthy students and top flight faculty. Above is a photo of Art Professor Frank Cressotti’s office in 2014.

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This is a life-sized, printed exposure of students lying on sheets of photo paper in the HCC darkroom in 2005. Basically, this photogram and Cressotti’s office above and the prison cell below represent a Giraffe’s eye, a perpendicular, view of the world.

 

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This cell is at the old Holyoke Jail that has miraculously avoided demolition over the past 30 plus years. My camera eye is attracted to what a majority of people would consider detritus, eyesores to be demolished. There are those of us who relish how the camera sees old paint, pocked sheet metal and other unpleasant textures. This is the opposite of flesh and fur, and equally beautiful in a photograph.

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Please come to the exhibition. It is at 303 Homestead Ave. which is on a stretch of Rte 202 west of Rte 91 in Western Massachusetts. HCC is around a mile from 91. Drive into the campus, turn left at the “T” and keep driving to the top of the hill where there is the main campus entrance. There is a visitor’s parking lot just beyond the rotary. Donahue Building is a few steps down from the main rotary. It’s the building to your right. Enter Donahue and the Library is immediately on your right. Enter that lobby and you will see the Taber Gallery. Welcome.

 

The Last Cut and the First Roll

August 9, 2016
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Gloria Rosa at Home, 1990

Gloria in her kitchen at my first portrait session for El Proyecto Holyoke. Her three daughters, Mary, Jenny and Angie, are pictured below. While editing for my HeyLook HoLyoke show at Holyoke Community College, I discovered that my vintage 40X60 inch mounted print of Gloria also exhibited a big ugly stain. That means it doesn’t make the cut.

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Mary Garcia, Jenny Rosa and Children, 1990

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Angie, Gloria’s Middle Daughter, 1990

I do have some 8X10 contact proofs of Mary and Jenny and Angie, but they are on RC glossy paper, not exhibition quality.

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Man, Baby and Boy, 1990

The above three view camera pictures were never exhibited. I do have work prints that have taken on more power over time. All our pictures become personal history after awhile. The good ones represent our literary output, visual poems so to speak.

These portraits will not make the cut, even though the big 8X10 inch negatives have become like my children. I love them now more then when they were born in the developing tray. The appearance of an image on a piece of photo sensitive film or paper in a developing tray feels almost as magical as doing almost anything with a smart phone.

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Ashley Reservoir Student Fieldtrip, 1999

These film based pictures are from 17 years ago. HCC has recently paved a road from campus to the Ashley Reservoir. We will be field tripping there this fall.

I am looking forward to teaching Basic and Advanced black and white film classes. Film photography may not be as easy as tickling a smart phone. Using a film camera involves a hands-on experience in creative energy and good fortune. With a classic film camera, there is no app to make your pictures look like a “classic camera” shot. It needs your input to make “classic camera” photos as good as, or better than,your digital camera and an app. Success takes trial and error, and you can use your smart phone to make test shots. You can also use a light meter app to properly expose your film. Don’t leave your smart phones home. Photo students will be carrying two cameras this fall.

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The First Roll, 1969-70

This is a picture from the first day I used a camera. I loaded my only roll of film into my new used Nikon three times to make triple exposures. There is an app for that.