Philadelphia Photographer Susan Bank Chronicles Lives of Cuban Tobacco Farmers in Exhibition at University's Gallery 1401

Bank’s ‘Cuba: Campo Adentro’ is a poetic portrait of an out-of-the-way agricultural community

March 18, 2010

Photographer Susan Bank's photography exhibition "Cuba: Campo Adentro," in which she chronicles the everyday lives of 10 related tobacco farming families in an out-of-the-way agricultural community in Pinar del Rio Province in Cuba, is on display at Gallery 1401 (211 S. Broad St.) at the University of the Arts through April 2. A reception celebrating the exhibition will be held on March 25 from 5 – 7 p.m. in Gallery 1401.

Utilizing her Leica M6, a rangefinder camera manufactured from 1984 to 1998, and natural light, Bank began the "Campo Adentro" photography project (above and below) in March 2002. What began as a weekend retreat from Havana became an intense personal project that spanned six years. She returned repeatedly to photograph the families who lived without benefit of modern conveniences. Overcoming obstacles from both the United States and Cuban governments, Bank took the raw, simple details of el campo (the field) and created an intimate and deep portrait of the daily life of campesinos (peasants).

The resulting book, Cuba: Campo Adentro (Sagamore Press, 2008), is the first known monograph that deals exclusively with the ordinary life of farmers in contemporary Cuba. PHotoEspaña, the International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts of Madrid, recognized the book as one of the 10 best photography books of 2009. The exhibition includes 14 black and white prints from the book.

"Unlike Walker Evans who was assigned to Cuba in 1933 to expose poverty, I had no political agenda," Bank said. "I did, however, have to guard against drifting into a romantic vision of a way of life that on the surface appeared to be exotic and perfectly harmonious."

A 2002 Leeway Foundation grant recipient, Bank has shown her photography extensively since 1997, most recently in a solo show at Fototeca Nacional in Pachucha, Mexico. Bank’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Johnson and Johnson, Lehigh University, and the James A. Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Pa., among others. Bank resides in Philadelphia.

Gallery 1401 offers a regular schedule of exhibitions of contemporary photography. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, noon – 4 p.m. Free and open to the public. Call 215-717-6300 for further information.

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