photographer and Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies & Visual Cultures @ freelance
Dr James Clifford Kent is a photographer and Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies & Visual Cultures. His creative research focuses on a broad range of themes, from documentary photography and photojournalism to the medical humanities. He has curated group shows and exhibited his own photographic work in the UK and Cuba. Over the course of the past two decades, James has travelled regularly to Cuba with his own photographic projects, covering historic events such as the funeral procession of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2016, and his work has featured in publications such as The Guardian, The Independent and The Times. He has also published several journal articles on Cuba and visual culture and is the author of the book Aesthetics and the Revolutionary City: Real and Imagined Havana (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He was awarded Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2022.
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- Summary: Crises have disrupted life on the Caribbean’s largest island since the Cuban Revolution triumphed on New Year’s Day 1959. From the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, to the collapse of the USSR and the 1990s “Special Period,” Cuba has hovered between crisis and survival. Now in the Revolution’s 64th year, ongoing shortages in a centrally planned economy ravaged by the US trade embargo manifest themselves in sustained power outages and high prices for unrationed food. Numbers abandoning the island for the United States have rocketed, with a mass exodus of 250,000 people (2% of Cuba’s population) in the last year alone. Artistic responses to crises have been central to their portrayal both inside and outside the island. Informed by interviews with academics, curators and visual artists, plus recent fieldwork in Cuba, this paper will bring into focus photography documenting life on the island during a never-ending economic crisis. It will also uncover synergies between photographs captured during different critical historical moments in Cuba’s history. Additionally, it will reveal how photographers and cultural organisations – including the Fototeca de Cuba, UNEAC and Universidad de las Artes (ISA) – are using equipment and materials innovatively to explore contemporary Cuban issues. To this end, the paper will consider how photographers are employing both analog processes (film cameras and dark room laboratories) and digital technologies (messaging apps and social networks) to address challenges, stimulate dialogue around photographic practice, and educate future generations of Cuban photographers.