LUNCH TIME: Thoughts on “Serrano Shoots Cuba” on Vice

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Andres Serrano has come a long way since “Piss Christ” which I find intriguing to this day and only after the fires are semi-burnt out, have we seen the full effect the piece has had.

Go see.

But really his other photographic works deserve to be noted, and his eye, being a bit heavy on serving the artist, than people, for my taste, is still remarkable and full of ability. So when I saw this choice of going to Cuba to photograph not only the island, but the main plot of the documentary, Fidel himself, I thought okay let me sit here and watch this. It will either be an artistic car crash that will bring some heartburn and curse words OR it will bring about something of a spark and maybe renew a way of looking at things.

Right? I mean what else could you hope for with art?

One of the first things I found out, was his relation to Cuba through his mother and the understanding that was there. You could feel he was not a son of an exile, so much as a person that was curious about his roots. I say this only because in the long run, intention is everything. I’m only guessing, but it seems he has that emotion of someone who is not feeling the angst of having been robbed, or being cheated, of their future through the Regime, but that odd curiosity and the opportunity that the Havana Biennale brought to him, so he could come and travel. Seeing that he was very much stuck to being the artist in this, and I say it to his credit and as a critique, because what is the advantage of the artist? It runs parallel with the scientist, that you remain neutral in the hearts and minds of others, of the politicians, the soldier, the police officer, the seller, the people, what have you, that as an artist you get to tip toe through the strata of all people in all this, and pretty much not get hurt. PRETTY MUCH. Unlike a journalist where you actually engage to know, an artist at times, sits and observes, and in that, Serrano plays the part. Though what gets me, is his abject way of capturing people, where he takes people off the street come in and have them take off clothes, others, admirers of his, are nude in their sittings and such, but then when the celebrities come in, when the big names are there, suddenly no one is nude right? Strike One.

Now I’m not here to look for ways to disapprove of his work. It’s beautiful. The portraits have a softness to them, a way of being to them, that I truly love. He has an eye to find the greatness in imperfection and what he pushes forward in the portraits of people he finds on the road. They are majestic in their  simplicity, and it shows the amount of technique and the eye he uses for them is stacked in ability and power, even the celebrity portraits give them more heir to themselves when taken that what the people show at times. It’s evident in his care and his work process.  He hunts his subject well, pursues them, talks with them, does the dance to them. Later, when he begins this whole thing of taking picture of the acidic and charred bodies in the morgue and he get excited for having a severed penis and vagina to take pictures of, I can hear my eyes roll, because it seems that of all the great pictures he took, that one was the one that tickled his pickle more than anything else. A Severed penis and a vagina. Really? Sheesh, and it seems like he’s suddenly a Black Metal kid from Hialeah, pointing at a dog’s boner, while laughing. Ugh. Strike Two.

That last thing, everyone seems to do, so I don’t find it harsh on him, because it comes back to what I said about not being a son of an Exile: he doesn’t see whats around him. For a photographer that a hell of a thing, ain’t it? But we all do it, this odd conditioning I think that comes from coming form a first world country and seeing something so different, but it’s the simple act of Poverty as Novelty. Just like the dumb ideas of the Noble Savage or the haughty Rich or whatever idiotic ideal we try to apply to entertain themselves, and it seems tat Serrano enjoys that idea. He loves it. I think there something beautiful and I have prideful to see Cubans and how they comport themselves in the face of adversity. IT”S STILL POVERTY THOUGH. It’s still living in cracked ruins. it’s wearing rags. Many things were not addressed many aspect were not shown, to us the viewers, and I would dare say, to Serrano himself. Now this is where it comes back to bite you in the ass to be an artist, because the same ability that allows you to dance around in all these social strata, you never can truly take a side. you must go around it, land on it for second, and you begin to sink, JUMP! This I see, as crucial to the view of this documentary and Serrano’s attitude overall in the film. That is a very weak Strike 3.

So 3 strikes and? And nothing. I didn’t write this to judge him or to shit on him, but used the allegorical mechanism of the great American pastime only to illustrate where I’m coming from.

The closest we get to how I feel about Cuba today, and to this film, is Serrano’s true statement of feeling of being Cuban and about being in Cuba about the Light being “this small” and how Cubans do so much with such little light. That to me, reflects the love and admiration for our people, that no matter what you are the son of, you enjoy in this documentary.

If anything I have a bit more respect for Serrano and I’m slowly digging his work. It may always be shadowed in the popular mind with the Piss Christ and that type of work, which he champions himself and seems to prefer, but it’s a smaller world to his amazing talent with his photography capturing people and the ability that he has.




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