Francie Bishop Good Captures Vermeer-like Photos of Cuba in Latest Exhibit

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Francie Bishop Good’s Photography Show: Far From Apple Hill @ David Castillo Gallery (2234 NW 2nd Avenue. PH: 305-573-8110. through May 4, 2013.

Francie Bishop Good’s new photographs are about peering out, looking in; waiting. Here, we have photographs taken in Florida, Colorado, and Cuba. All psychological portraits of people Far From Apple Hill, where Good grew up.

Among the most interesting images in the show are those taken in Havana. In these Cuban pieces, people tip towards light and peer out towards the world. In a photograph called Smoker, a woman leans out of her window, cigarette smoke trailing behind her, a rolling pin beside her, wrapped in flour dust. Framed as she is, the woman looks like something Vermeer would have painted — if Vermeer were alive in contemporary Cuba, that is. Images like these are proof that Good started out as a painter.

Next to Smoker, there is an image of a young boy looking straight into the camera while, behind him, men and women dip their feet into the water’s edge and swim by the sea wall. In this picture, Boy and Bottle, Malecon, we have a wonderfully contradictory dichotomy at play. On the one hand, the group near the water is, for the most part, facing the world outside of Cuba, while the boy who faces the camera, faces in — into Cuba, and into himself, leaving the viewer of this photograph returning his gaze and wondering. Wondering both at the world inside the boy, as well as gazing into Cuba itself. To add another layer, the boy is also looking at the photographer, an American in Cuba. And so, in a sense, both the solitary boy and the group by the water are looking out, just as we are — but only through prisms of interiority. The layers of personal and artistic “gaze” in this image are manifold and complex. And it’s precisely the capturing of these complexities that keeps Good’s images from being stereotypical Cuban photographs and allows them, instead, to be truly about people.

“In her photos I don’t see an exotified vision of my city; it’s not a touristic “orientalized” perspective,” says Victor Rodriguez Nuñez, a Cuban poet who collaborated with Good, writing a poem for one of the exhibit’s photographs. The collaboration, as well as Good’s Cuban photographs, came out of a licensed “people to people” trip to Cuba organized by Kenyon College, where Nuñez teaches.

In Cuba, Good heard Nuñez’s poems and “the hair on [her] arms stood up.” She just knew she wanted to work with him. Good asked Nuñez if he would be interested in writing a poem in dialogue with her images. Nuñez, who is a poet working both in Cuba and the United States and has what he calls a “unique migratory situation,” agreed. Not only did he agree, but he asked Good, whose photographs he admires, to photograph his dying mother on a second trip Good took to the island.

One of the images from Good’s second trip is One Eye, Havana. In this picture, a woman’s eye is framed by a termite ridden door. Behind her, another woman sits in a rocking chair. Drawings line the stairs, and Picasso and Kahlo prints hang on the walls, surrounding the two women. It is this image that Nuñez chose to write about. The woman in the rocking chair is his mother, who passed away shortly after the photograph was taken.

In the poem about One Eye, Nuñez wonders what these waiting women are waiting for — their alcoholic husbands? Their vanishing sons? An impossible caress? The image and its title are almost mythic — that “one eye” beckoning back to the Cyclopes — those single-eyed giants that gave Zeus his thunderbolt; Hades his invisibility. These women seem, all at once, all powerful and absolutely fragile — just like the world around them.

If this isn’t “people to people” travel, it’s hard to know what is. The exhibit and the artistic collaborations attached to it are proof that we should be crossing the borders between Cuba and the United States more often. “For me,” says Nuñez, “movement is more important than fixedness; borders are meant to be crossed.” Nuñez will be reading his poetry at the David Castillo Gallery, surrounded by Good’s photographs on April 26th at 1pm. He will be reading in Spanish and his wife, Katherine Hedeen, will be reading his work in English, which she translates.