News Archives

Michael Eastman on Photography & Havana

November 8, 2019

During assembly on Friday, November 8, St. Louisan and contemporary photographer Michael Eastman spoke to students about how he got started and why Cuba was such an important subject for him. The self-taught photographer has spent more than 40 years documenting facades and interiors in Cuba, Italy, France and New Orleans. Two of his works from Havana are hanging, courtesy of past parent Keith Baizer, on the On Loan wall on the first floor of the Brauer Building. Another of his photographs, Courtyard Bologna, is in the school's permanent collection.

Eastman said that when he graduated from college in the early 70s, he had no idea what he wanted to do. But, he added, one of the great things about photography is that everyone can do it. You can give someone a violin, but they cannot make music. If you give someone a camera, they can make a picture. Eastman loved the immediacy, the democracy, the ease with which he could create something right away with a camera.

The challenge, however, was to find a vision and develop a recognizable style. In 1999, he found success in Cuba which was, he said, frozen in the 50s. It had the same paint, cars, decaying interiors with people living in them with pride and dignity. Eastman shot everything that moved ... and didn't move. He saw architecture, juxtapositions, people in the street he had never seen before. At first, he shot everything in black and white but eventually took the same shots in color which gave the images more humanity. In both styles, he was trying to capture a sense of human presence —  that someone had just entered or just left a space. In the series of photographs he took inside Isabella's house, for instance, he shot the same wall multiple times —  photographing decay, photographing time, photographing change, photographing chance. He also photographed architecture from the outside, discovering stunningly beautiful places with a story, with a human presence.

Eastman traveled to Cuba five times in 11 years, but said now the Cuba he shot frozen in time is disappearing.

Eastman's photographs have appeared in Time, Life, Art in America, Art News, Art Forum, Communication Arts and American Photographer, and they reside in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,among others. His books include Havana (2011, Prestel), Vanishing America (2008, Rizzoli) and Horses (2003, Knopf).