Havana Image

Havana: Photographs by Robert Polidori

On view May 22, 2004 to January 9, 2005

Located in the: Special Exhibition Galleries

No one tells the story of Havana’s remarkable architectural legacy with greater power than internationally acclaimed photographer Robert Polidori—whose stunning, large-format images provide glimpses of a world where layers of peeling paint reveal layers of time. In the first solo museum exhibition of his photographs, Polidori shows us how Havana’s past inhabits the present through the city’s extraordinary architecture.

Polidori first visited Havana in 1997 while on assignment as staff photographer for The New Yorker. He began exploring the city's dynamic architecture—from the elegant colonial to the exuberant Modern, which appeared arrested in time, reflecting years of economic and political turmoil. He returned four more times, continuing his study of the astonishing range and scale of Havana’s buildings. The results are a remarkable interpretation of the city's magnificent architectural legacy.

Polidori refers to himself as a “habitat photographer” rather than an architectural photographer. His images of Havana’s buildings reveal a complex history of a sophisticated, vibrant culture and its expression through art. The fragile state of the city’s architecture is brought to light, as is the enduring spirit of its residents. Polidori boldly presents his subjects without apology for their condition a departure from most commissioned architectural photography, which aims to present buildings as beautiful, even glamorous, objects. These powerful, highly personalized images invite us to look beyond the formal surfaces of great buildings to the inhabitants who invest them with life and meaning. 

Cuba has been a Spanish colony, a republic, and a communist nation, and this complex history is reflected in its architecture. In the early years of the Republic, the country responded to the principal formal styles of European and American architecture, but the urge to affirm the island’s heritage soon gave way to a more open, innovative spirit and a more deliberate search for a true Cuban architecture.

Cubanidad, the concept of “Cubanness” has influenced Cuban art and culture for more than 100 years, resulting in one of the world’s great collections of twentieth century architecture in its capital city, Havana. Since the 1959 revolution, most of this architectural heritage has been frozen in time by a form of tacit preservation, so that while many buildings have deteriorated, they continue to be occupied. They endure as a testament to the creativity and sophistication of Havana and its residents, the habaneros.

Born in Montreal in 1951, Robert Polidori moved to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. After receiving a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, he became a filmmaker in New York City before moving to Paris in 1983 and pursuing his growing interest in photography. He returned to New York in 1997 and has been an award-winning staff photographer at The New Yorker since 1999. Polidori is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

Labels and wall text created for the exhibition will be presented in both English and Spanish. The Peabody Essex Museum gratefully acknowledges the generous support of
Neil St. John Raymond, James G. Babb, and Karl W. Frey for Havana: Photographs by Robert Polidori.


View image gallery in Artscape

Further Reading