Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Alex Garcia takes us on an insider’s journey to his family’s Cuban motherland in his exhibition at The Chicago Center for Photojournalism. Not only does he have family still in Cuba, but he travels there frequently with his curated experiences called “Cuba Workshops.” There is heartbreak in having family so close—after all, Cuba is only 330 miles from Miami, but politically it may as well have been a million miles away until the country reopened in the mid-nineties. Garcia’s father was born and raised in Cuba, and left much of his family there, unreachable, and for Garcia, unmeetable.
Garcia has covered more than 6,000 assignments in his long and illustrious career, working for both the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and is now head of his own production company, Three Story Media, which is fitting, because Garcia is a superb storyteller. One of the standout characteristics of his work is its immediacy—cutting to the heart of whatever is taking place.
In an infectiously joyous image from the show, “The Guide, Havana 2017,” Garcia’s cousin lights up the frame with her jubilant smile. Another lively image is “Yoruba Dancer, Trinidad 2020.” Framed against the vivid yellow of a mausoleum in a decrepit cemetery, a brightly garbed dancer calls on the ancestors or scares away the bad spirits, her skirt swirling around her. In “La Tropicana, Havana 2015,” the frame is enlivened by a troupe of dancers in red. Fireworks in “500 Years of La Habana, 2019” explode over the city on its quincentenary. The sun-faded pastels of buildings and cars we connect with Cuba are for the daylight—color and celebration are for hot Cuban nights.
A shirtless man stands in a crumbling theater in Garcia’s “Theater in Decay, 2016.” This is the deteriorating Cuba we have all seen. What we have perhaps not seen are gentle images like Garcia’s “Love of the Son, Havana, 2001” in which a man who is hardly young himself embraces his elderly mother. Other images that touch the viewer are “Decades Later, 1995,” which simply shows ankles in a pair of sneakers with sand over and beneath them—home soil, and the image titled “Abuelo, 1995” in which pairs of hands reach for and lovingly touch a faded print of their grandfather. It is these tender moments that Garcia excels at. He has visited Cuba in many guises: as a student, as a photojournalist, and as a tour provider. He feels Cuba deeply and aims to portray that in his photographs. He says that once he used the camera to hide the tears he felt well up when he had to say goodbye to his family members he’d just met. It could be said that Alex Garcia is a humanistic photographer, capturing things that are not necessarily visible to the eye. How fortunate we are that he shares them.
“Enduring Ties: Resilience and Longing in Cuba” by Alex Garcia at the Chicago Center for Photojournalism, 1226 West Wilson, on view through September 15.