In the week before Christmas 1998, I walked back late at night from the Old Town through Centro Habana back to Calle Línea in Vedado. It was like wandering across a giant Advent calendar in the first days of December — only a few windows were illuminated across the entire stretched residential zone. Some doors and ground floor windows were boarded up and only the occasional bare light bulb shone a limp light on dilapidated hallways.
The seawall walkway of the Malecón was rough with jagged pavement slabs that needed filing down like overgrown, torn finger nails. Behind the colonial columns, women, with their hips slung out to one side and hair beehived with curlers, leant against door frames nattering with their neighbours or just staring out into the humid gloom.
Dogs trotted through the rubble-strewn streets and a lampless bike grew out of the darkness and nearly mowed me down. Families sat watching chunky, black and white Soviet TV sets, sometimes the flickering light being the only glow in the room.
So, when I read that photographer Simone Lueck had invited herself into the living rooms of Cubans to photograph their decrepit TV sets, it was partly a trip down memory lane to look through her book Cuba TV.
She has photographed the centrepiece of most Cuban living rooms beautifully. The photographs capture the low-tech hue of the ancient sets casting a glow on the Cuban penchant for kitsch knick-knacks — plastic flowers, ceramic crap and cheap vases — and religious paraphernalia — Christian icons and offerings to Santería orishas. Lueck’s images also reveal the leprous state of the walls of many Cuban homes and the electric wire tangles that are almost decorous in their untidy display.
As Lueck writes herself: “The TV sets are outdated, pre-revolution relics imported from America, or Russia: green-hued beasts jury-rigged with computer parts and other discarded technological talismans, fantastically adorned like religious altars.”
My favourite is the last image: a tweaked print of Da Vinci’s Last Supper on the wall hangs incongruously next to a modern TV playing a cartoon. An ancient, monstrous radio-cassette machine is perched on top of the TV and the TV lead climbs the wall behind the framed print and crawls out of the picture. It’s brilliant — a classic Cuban living room image.
I was hoping that Lueck had managed to capture a Cuban TV presenter in one of her pictures. On the nightly news at 8pm there’s a regular TV presenter sporting a huge bigote (moustache). I don’t know his name but his embedded hedge is hugely hypnotic…
Published by Mark Batty Publisher
If you are interested in Simone Lueck’s photography and want to see more of what Cuba has to offer, experience one of our Cuban photography holidays.