Feel the summertime heat of the land of cigars
When we mention Cuba, we usually think of a country which is full of energy and tremendous cheer. We somehow immediately visualize a series of streets on which there are highly competent stilt walkers and numerous people joining a parade or a festival. Besides, the citizens’ houses on these streets are even painted in a wide array of vivid colours which can be said to be visually provoking. Taking all of the aforementioned factors and the fact that Cuba is located in the southern hemisphere into consideration, it might sound convincing to say that Cuba symbolizes the summer season. With “Tell me more about Cuba” exhibition featuring French photographer Xavier Benech that was set to be opened on the 6th of July 2019, RAW Streetphoto Gallery believes that joining the exhibition is a must-have experience for everyone since the hottest time of the year has come and it seems to be impossible not to engross ourselves in the summerish atmosphere that this series of photographs gives off. Apart from seeing the familiarity present within the images, we will also be able to explore the unseen particularity of Cuba from another perspective, or in other words, Xavier Bénech’s perspective.
Xavier Bénech is an engineer, a photographer coming from France and residing in Spain at present. In spite of having only started involving in the field of photography professionally for four years, he has been making great effort to claim his position within this territory. This can be seen especially through “Tell me more about Cuba” series. At the same time, Xavier has even taken a few portraits besides street photographs. He considers himself as someone who has an endless interest in travelling and understanding the culture embedded in places all around the world. Every time setting foot on a foreign land, Xavier always feels the urge to discover the local way of lìfe, how the citizens behave and dress, et cetera. in accordance with the region, community or city where they grew up and form lifestyles. For him, this seems not only about acquiring new knowledge but it also has to do with contemplating life as well as developing emotional intelligence. Instead of concentrating on bringing the beauty of aesthetic elements to the surface to draw the viewers’ attention, Xavier’s ambition is to touch their feelings through his photography. He aims at letting people experience the authenticity and imagine that they are living in the world established within a picture. In fact, this is what he thinks should be called beauty. Here, the focal point is to evoke viewers’ sense by releasing an artistic purity, going with the flow and not trying to manipulate any factors. Arguably, all of these lead to a plausible explanation for why he cited “names like Henry Cartier-Bresson, Frank Capra, Dorothea Lange” as artists whom he admires most. No matter which specific field (either cinema or photography) each of these artists work in, what they have in common is that they all adopt a humanistic approach in terms of making art.
In the series “Tell me more about Cuba”, Xavier Bénech presents Cuba in an impressionist manner. He naturally captures simplistic daily life moments ranging from La Havana to a small old town named Trinidad by making use of the sunlight and skillfully playing with different colors. Both of these aspects indisputably contribute to a harmonious composition that would definitely satisfy a lot of hard-to-please viewers. For now, let’s take a look at a small talk that RAW Streetphoto Gallery had with Xavier Bénech to know more about him. RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What made you decide to follow a photography career?
Xavier Bénech: It was a quite natural move I must said. I have always been interested in arts, especially visual arts: paintings, photography and cinema. I did not start my professional career in this direction at all but never stopped being attracted by it. Through the time, I felt more and more the need to do something that was making sense to me, something that I enjoy doing but also giving the opportunity to express myself. Why photography among other things, I do not have a real answer there: it was just obvious for me to take this path.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Which photographers do you idolize the most and why?
Xavier Bénech: That's a very tricky question to answer for me. I hate the word idolize. I always had a hard time to rank artists. On one hand, I am very curious and love to discover new things. On the other hand, I tend to organize pieces of art more according to my mood and/or my feelings in relation to them. In my discovery of arts however, there are two movements that had a huge impact on me: Dada and Bauhaus: they really shaped my theoretical vision of arts. Concerning photography more precisely, I would obviously cite names like Henry Cartier-Bresson, Frank Capra, Dorothea Lange and immediately jump to Arthur Tress, Dieter Appelt or Andres Serrano. I have a kind of schizophrenic approach of photography, being able to make a choice between a humanistic approach, the art of storytelling, making human feelings touchable and the more "purely" artistic, theoretical approach of photography as a graphic art. Actually thinking about it, the photographer I may use as a reference for my personal path would be Fan Ho as I see in his beautiful photography a nice combination of both a humanistic approach and a strongly graphical vision.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Given the fact that you started deepening your practice in photography not so long ago, have you ever thought of it as a challenge to your long-term occupation as a photographer?
Xavier Bénech: I am not sure to fully understand the question here but I will try to answer as I understand it. Of course, it is a challenge. But if I deepened my practice only for a short period, it is mainly on the technical aspects of photography. As I was saying earlier, I am interested in visual arts since my youth. I used to be a true cinema lover going to cinema between 3 and 5 times a week. As a student, I was doing lighting for plays and studied a bit of cinema lighting theory at that time. My interest in Bauhaus led me to the theory of art developed by Kandisky. It is mainly self-education over the years but I hope it gives me some basis on which I could ground my photographic practice.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Which factors do you think are the most significant when taking portrait photographs?
Xavier Bénech: It really depends on the kind of portraits you are shooting. You may not have exactly the same approach when you're doing pure street photography or when you are doing a reportage or a documentary. In my opinion, in both of these contexts, a good portrait should allow the viewers to imagine the personality of the subject or at least to feel a real human being with a story behind the image. It may or may not be the "truth" that the photographer chooses depending on the work’s purpose. If the purpose is purely artistic, then the person may no longer be the model, for example in the work of someone like Robert Mapplethorpe.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Why did you choose Cuba as your destination to work on a project?
Xavier Bénech: I already traveled quite a lot in Asia in the past. I was now very curious about Latin America. My recent move to Spain gave me the opportunity to learn Spanish which removed my latest hesitation to start discovering this part of the world. Why Cuba rather than another place? Maybe for its romantic resonance coming from people like Che Guevara or Hemingway, also, even if it is "cliché", for the postcard vision we may have of La Havana architecture and the old American cars cruising the streets. I was curious to confront those clichés to reality.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What do you think that the future of photography would be?
Xavier Bénech: Being submerged in images as we are now, and will be even more, I think the future of the photography will be in the storytelling, the purpose of the photographer. It is easy to copy an image: still, it is difficult to copy the relation the photographers have with their subjects. It is not really new in fact, it is the manifestation of the arts since the beginning of the 20th century, but it will be what makes the difference between photographers and instagrammers in the future.
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