Sorry Folks, you have to hop on the EUROSTAR for that one. Take the 7.43 am to Saint Pancras and come back by the 8pm one and you’ll see more than your eyes can bare!
A day in London will get you back your appetite for life, for joy, for passion!
Michael Eastman is a self taught photographer who has spent thirty years capturing the essential nature of his subject. During this time he has photographed a wide variety of subjects, and is best known for his Cuba and Horses series.
Michael Eastman holds the authenticity of the image as his highest goal. He shuns the use of artificial light and uses long exposure times instead, waiting as long as it takes for the natural illumination of the room to expose his film properly.
He has spent 4 decades travelling and documenting diverse exteriors far and wide from New Orleans to Cuba to Paris.
Eastman, however, is most known for his exploration of architectural decay. His monumental prints, which he insists on developing himself, are full of color and unparalleled photographic texture.
Photographie.com speaks with Michael Eastman
A new exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery presents the Havana series of the leading contemporary photographic artist Michael Eastman. The American artist speaks with us about his love for Cuba, and for the mystery that surrounds a lot of houses in Havana.
Photographie.com : What drew you in Havana in the first place ?
As a photographer, I have always looked with envy to photographers that came before and had the opportunity to photograph places that no longer exist. I've always envied people such as Eugène Atget who photographed Paris in the 1900s, or Walker Evans in the South in the 1930s, and I have always told myself that I would give anything to be able to go back in time and photograph that sort of era. Because of the political situation, Cuba has been frozen in time, and it gave me the opportunity to do that. I think it is sort of easy for us people living today to look back and say : 'I'd like to go back' ; it's more difficult to look ahead and try to determine what in 30-50-100 will people wanting to look back now.
Photographie.com : Your last visit to Cuba dated back to eight years ago. Why did you wait so long before going back ?
I waited eight years because I didn't want to do the same thing all over again, which is not good for an artist to do. But I love the place, I love the photographs and I kept thinking about it, so I told myself : 'I'll go back and see what I can do'. It turned out that in eight years I had gotten better, and saw things differently. I shot many more interiors than I had done before, and I photographed several interiors in many different ways. So the photo shoot in 2010 actually turned out to be probably the best photo shoot I've ever had. It is maybe because I had no expectations, or because I've gotten better over the years, or because I've leant from my first three trips. I'm not sure. But the combination of these three things made the work better or at least completed it.
Photographie.com : Is Havana the only city in the world that you have photographed so many times ?
I've been photographing New York City for over 20 years, but Havana is special. Everybody is photographing everything nowadays, it's hard to take an original photograph in Paris, for example - chances are that someone has done that before you. Or there is no surprise because people know where you have photographed. Cuba is all new, unknown, mysterious. It's very attractive to me. It's nothing like fresh snow, your tracks are the only ones. That's what I feel about Cuba.
Photographie.com : How did you discover the places you have photographed in Cuba ? Do you like wandering in the city, searching for the right location ?
I do a lot of searching. It's not always pleasant, especially when I have to spend more time walking or driving in search of a place, rather than actually taking photographs of that place. Sometimes I meet people that suggest a place, other times I find it on my own. One time I saw a beautiful house with a huge hall, and I thought : 'Something is going on there that I want to see'. I just knocked on the door and I discovered quite a powerful interior. It is also important to be able to explain what I am doing well enough to people that they open up and let me see their interior. I want to do that in Paris, but it is very difficult to find people that will open their homes to a stranger to photograph.
Photographie.com : Do you like to know the history of a place before photographing it, or do you prefer the mystery ?
I am one of those people that do not prepare before going to a country or to a home. On some level, I am not curious about the history, because what matters to me is my emotional and intellectual response to what is in front of me. I like the mystery of not knowing, because I think that it translates into a photograph that is mysterious. The narrative is built by me and by the viewer of the photograph and by what is actually happening in the interior of a home. I think mystery is much more interesting than history.
Photographie.com : What other places would you like to photograph ?
I'm working on a couple of new projects called Urban Luminosity, in which I'm photographing contemporary architecture, surfaces and interiors. So I was thinking of going to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Berlin, Hong Kong, and other big cities that are doing a lot of contemporary architecture.
I am thinking of photographing more horses and landscape. I have started printing them on watercolor paper (with a really coarse texture), and I am now using the same oil glaze that the old masters (Rembrandt, Van Dyke and others) once used for their paintings. I use it to build up the colors slowly with five to six coats and I then lacquer them. The colors that I am being able to achieve are quite beautiful.
Photographie.com : You are especially fond of big prints. Why is that ? Is it because they allow you to show more details ?
Big prints allow you to enter a photograph - especially photos of interiors in Cuba and Italy - in a way that you can't enter a smaller print. A smaller print is like a window you are looking though, a bigger print is like actually entering a space. And big prints do allow me to show more detains : in some of my prints you can actually see the title of the books on a shelf ; in smaller prints, you can't do that unless you have a magnifying glass. The clues, the details that make up the mystery are there for the viewer to view.
The other thing I like about big prints, especially those with a certain luminosity, is the amount of color that you are standing in front of. When you think about big abstract expressionist or minimalist paintings, you realize you are confronted with the color. That size and scale is much more powerful than a smaller scale.
Photographie.com : How would you describe the purpose of your photography ? How important is the documentary aspect of your photography ?
Some of my work - such as my Cuba, or my Vanishing America series - is very documentary, and this is why its accuracy is very important to me. The reason I chose to tell these stories in a documentary sense is because they are really powerful as they are. I feel a responsibility not to make the colors differently than I saw them and not digitally enhance or eliminate things that I think are not important, and not create any kind of fiction. The power of the photo comes from that accuracy. When you look at the photographs that have been faked in the history of photography, it becomes evident that the power of that picture is gone and that it will never come back. You can never look at Orkin's photograph of the American girl in Italy in the same way, because you realize it was done with four or five takes. So I try to be as accurate as possible. My other series, Urban Luminosity, is different : I just feel that I use my camera as a painter would use its brushes ; it is my painting and my reality.
Photographie.com : Would you say that you have learned more from photographers or from painters ? Which photographers do you take an interest in ?
Painters, absolutely. I am a self-taught artist, and when I went back to school, 20 years ago, to take art history classes, I understand what the history of art was about, and I was really struck by the work of minimalists, abstract expressionists, modern art, etc.
Early on, I liked Ernest Hass and Aaron Siskind, and later Andreas Gursky, those are people that are doing similar things to me. But I look at everything, it is interesting to see how other people see things. When I was in Cuba, other people were in the same spaces that I was in, and it was interesting to see that all if us approached things completely differently. I find that to be really fascinating.