Jaime Permuth, a Guatemalan, New York-based photographer, visited Cuba for the first time in November 2014. Every year, La Fototeca de Cuba in Havana, a museum and educational resource that is home to the country’s largest photographic archive, organizes Noviembre Fotográfico (the Month of Photography Festival), exhibiting works from both Cuban and international artists. Permuth was invited to present his first monograph, “YONKEROS”—images of the strong immigrant community in the Willets Point junkyards in New York City, controversially slated for redevelopment with a residential housing plan pushed through by former Mayor Bloomberg—and to deliver an artist talk. The event was sponsored by New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he is a faculty member of the Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography program. Anxious to explore the city, Permuth planned a ten-day visit, and packed light.
Permuth grew up in Guatemala during the civil war, where, he says, “Communism was a taboo subject. In particular, Cuba and Nicaragua were seldom discussed. And when they were, it was rarely without a heavy dose of ironic or sarcastic commentary.” The romance of Cuba did not evade him: “As a young adult, I strived to fill in some of the cultural gaps and omissions left over from my teenage years. As such, I fell in love with the Cuba that can be readily consumed outside of its borders: literature, music, rum, and tobacco.” The reality that he encountered in visiting Havana, seen here for the first time in his series “Untitled (Cuba),” was a city unknowingly on the brink of change. Just days after Permuth’s return, President Obama announced his intention to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States.
—by Alex Zafiris for Guernica
Jaime Permuth, born in 1968, is a 2014 Smithsonian Museum Artist Fellow. In 2013, “YONKEROS” (La Fábrica) was nominated for the Prix Pictet, and he was awarded an NFA Fellowship from the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. His work has been exhibited worldwide. For more information, visit jaimepermuth.net.