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Piercing the Darkness

Susan Bank | Cuba

The Wall

Exhibit Abstract /SD/NY Photo

“Piercing the Darkness” mirrors my urgency to peel away the exotic veneer of Havana – to penetrate the submerged realities of that illusive portal, with one eye on the Straits of Florida – to flesh out ‘the casino of life’ with all its bittersweet shades of hope and despair.

Bio/ Susan S. Bank

Susan S. Bank, documentary photographer, resides in Philadelphia PA and Portsmouth NH, near the coastal island where she ‘grew up’ in the 1940’s and 50’s. Bank became a photographer at the ‘perfect point’ in her life at age 60. She studied with Constantine Manos in Havana in 2000. She produces long term projects, beginning with the Salisbury Beach (MA) series; “Cuba: Campo Adentro” portrait of rural life in Pinar del Rio Province and most recently “Piercing the Darkness” portfolio of Havana. “Cuba: Campo Adentro” was selected as “One of the Best Photography Books of the Year” PHoto Espana 2009. The el campo work has received numerous national awards, has been widely exhibited in the United States (including NY Photo Festival Latin Pavilion 2010) and in Cuba, and is in museum collections, most recently The Center for Creative Photography University of Arizona Tucson. The Havana series was honored by Duke/Daylight Awards 2010, and LensCulture International Focus Awards 2011 in a traveling group exhibition in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Paris, and was represented in the Havana Bienal 2006. La Fabrica of Madrid is publishing Bank’s second monograph “Piercing the Darkness” in 2012.



To dare to interpret this tropical garden is a risky game. Photographers have come and gone before me and others will follow - chasing butterflies.

Living in private homes in Habana Centro, the broken heartland of the city’ to get inside the skin of the players, I constantly retrace my footsteps, waiting in shifty shadows for the invisible, where the mask of a smile is always for sale and Cubans have nothing to give but their soul in a cup of coffee.

One or two visits is enough to catch the thread that their ingenious resourcefulness, their Cubanesse, is stamped on their identity card. - that Habaneros live in a twilight zone of anxiety and impotence. They wait in limbo, clinging to a stubborn hope and flickering expectations for change. Humor is their homegrown anesthetic. Music, passion and sleep smother restlessness. Rumors whisper of change, yet tomorrow is a shrug of uncertainty.
Havana! You flirtaeous seductress! Pulled between raw reality and utopian dreams, your luminescent spirit surfaces, refusing to be hidden in a closet. Rosa’s broad smile beams beyond the frame of her life as a street cleaner. Captured in 1/125 of a second, Rosa is the invisible hope.

I have known more than 20 Havanas, and known none. Where is the 10 Cent Store this month? The only sure bet is Cuba is an island in the shape of a crocodile.
After ten years of combing this mythical city, the harsh reality of the place sneaks in. The weight of Havana sits heavy on my shoulders. Luchando becomes daily wear. A lie becomes truth, truth a lie. I no longer trust my instincts - a click of the shutter is like shooting blind. And it could snow at noon.
I work with a handheld Leica M6 with available light.




 Susan S. Bank



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