Shoeshine, San Angel, México, 1974
El fotógrafo del Parque La Alameda, México, D.F., 1974
Haciendo cola, Santiago de Cuba, 1999
Salón de té, Montevideo, Uruguay, 1993
El laboratorio del Dr. Paz-Viera, Cartagena, Colombia, 1987
Cuban-born photographer Mario Algaze is master of his craft, on par with such giants as Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the legendary Manuel Alvarez-Bravo. After being exiled from his homeland at the age of thirteen, Algaze relocated to Miami, then went on to travel extensively in Central and South America, seeking a connection with his cultural roots.
A Respect for Light: The Latin American Photographs 1974-2008 (Glitterati Incorporated), his magnum opus, presents the full breadth of the artist’s work, culled from over three decades of travel in sixteen different countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, as well as his native land of Cuba.
The first comprehensive retrospective of this work will open at HistoryMiami Museum on November 13, from 6:00-8:00pm. The 4,000 s.f. exhibition, curated by by HistoryMiami deputy director Jorge Zamanillo, features over 150 black and white images. A Respect for Light: The Photography of Mario Algaze will be on view through January 18, 2015.
As Jorge Zamanillo recalls, “About two years ago, I was speaking to a museum trustee about photography. He mentioned that one of the photographers whose work he admired, Mario Algaze, lived right here in South Florida. I knew of Mario’s work but had never made the connection to Miami. I immediately contacted him. I was interested in asking him to speak on a panel about photography but he had no interest. After a couple of persistent calls, he asked me over to his home to discuss his work. Aside from the beautiful prints masterly developed in his darkroom, the stories behind each photo and his travels across Latin America were captivating. I knew then that we had to show his work.
“Algaze’s photographs stand on their own merit in a talented field of contemporaries in Latin American photography such as Javier Silva-Meinel in Peru and Graciela Iturbide in Mexico. The balance between the people, the culture, and the settings make Algaze’s compositions unique and they fluctuate between the fine art and documentary photography realms.
“I consider each of Algaze’s images to be similar to the opening shot in a classic black and white film. Their dreamlike quality set the mood and feel of the story. The difference is that the photographs are not staged by a cinematographer but conceived and captured spontaneously by the artist’s eye. That’s where they become fine art.
“Anyone who has traveled in Latin America and the Caribbean will immediately recognize that Algaze has captured the essence of each region. The stories and emotions evoked in the images are unique to each country but at the same time tie in the cultures across the geographical borders with their similarities in setting and architecture. Algaze’s photography almost transcends time. A photograph shot in the 1990s may feel as if it was captured 50 years earlier but with no staging or gimmicks to alter the pureness of his images.
“Algaze’s portfolio of work across 16 countries not only speaks to his passion but it also collects, documents, and preserves the subject matter: Latin America. I believe he still has a few more trips in him to complete his portfolio. His ability to detach himself emotionally during his first return trip to Cuba, since leaving his birthplace as a teenager, attests to his professionalism and devotion to capture an unbridled view of the country. That being said, his connection to his cultural roots is what brings out the delicacy and intimacy in each of his photographs.”
It is this intimacy and delicacy that gives each photograph an inner, glowing radiance. It is in the fraction of a second of the shutter snap that the ephemeral is preserved. It is in this moment that eternity is born, born of Algaze’s reverence for the light that reveals and hides at every turn.
As Algaze tells Vince Aletti in the introduction to A Respect for Light, “The most important ingredient in my photographs is very early morning light, a magical light, which on most days only allows about an hour to work. There’s a certain quality before 9:30 in the morning, where the light hits in a forty-five-degree and there are long shadows and soft light. The space is list like a Bertolucci movie. If I could, I would light every scene, but I can’t. I have to rely on Mother Nature.”
And it is Mother Nature who reveals herself in Algaze’s return and journey through his motherland. As Algaze reveals to Nadira Husain in conversation for the book, “I never understood that at the age of thirteen, when my mother and I flew from Havana on the Pan Am flight, it would be forty years until I would see my homeland again, or that I would be leaving the Communist revolution and entering a cultural one instead. During those early years as an exile I was trying to find my place in a new world. This affected me deeply; it is a time when a boy starts to become a an, and I felt like an outsider, always seeking…something.
“Even thought American had welcomed me with open arms, I never had the same sense of feeling, of belonging, as I had in my birth country. The smell of America was different than that of Cuba. I remember asking my mother why, ‘the ocean smells different here.’ Years later I understood that in Cuba the seaweed, when caught on the coral reef, would dry and develop a unique scent. This was not the case of the white sandy beaches of Miami Beach. Everything was different to me, and for me.
“As an exile I became a photographer, and grew as a photographer. Fro, 1971 onwards I started photographing the ‘counter-cultural movement.’ Some of us took our cameras and started photographing the Vietnam War; others took to Selma, Memphis, and Washington, D.C., photographing the revolutions within our borders; while others dropped acid, embraced the hippie movement and free love, and migrated to the music festivals. It was here that I found my place. But I still hadn’t quite found my identity as a person.
“After a while, exhausted from the sensual headiness of the rock ‘n’ roll scene, I wanted out. My reprieve came by way of an invitation to Mexico. It was on that trip in 1974 that I regained the identity all exiles lose. When I landed in Mexico I took one deep breath. Even though I was not in Cuba, I understood the simplicity of that moment: I am Latin, this is my identity.
“In 1999, after almost four decades, I finally closed the circle by going back to the place where I was born. I went back to Cuba and began to regain my sense of smell.
“Over the years I have embraced my roots to the point where I have photographed sixteen Latin American countries. The results of those years are who I am: I am an artist whose images will always say more than any of my words ever could.”
Más rápido que andar a pie, Ciudad de Panamá, 1994
Cotton candy, San Angel, México, 1981
Desaparecidos, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1984
Salón de billar, Boquete, Panamá, 1994
El tigre y el tiburón, Boca de Chavón, República Dominicana, 1998