Photography is an art form. Still, it's also used to record events and preserve memories. Two extraordinary photo exhibits in the Hamptons this Labor Day weekend satisfy on both counts.
¡CUBA, CUBA! The American flag was raised at the U.S. Embassy in Havana last month for the first time since 1961. But it will be years before many of us can visit Cuba like ordinary tourists. The International Center of Photography's exhibit at the Southampton Arts Center provides a glimpse of what we've been missing and what it was like before the revolution, when Cuba was an American vacation destination.
"¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography," co-curated by Cuban art historian Iliana Cepero and ICP director Mark Lubell, captures the then-and-now of the island nation 90 miles off Key West, Florida.
"Photographs transcend politics," Cepero said at the show's mid-August opening. "We wanted to capture multiple layers of Cuban reality over a period of six decades. Obviously, with 150 images, it can't be comprehensive. . . . We knew Cuba would be opening up, so it seemed timely."
But timing complicated matters, too. Moving from its previous Manhattan location, the ICP is dark this summer. The Southampton center, former home of the Parrish Art Museum, was available. "It's sort of like the BSO [Boston Symphony Orchestra] going to Tanglewood," Cepero said.
There are historic photos, such as the late Southampton resident Burt Glinn's shot of Fidel Castro, guarded by armed soldiers, delivering a speech days after overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Others are more placid, such as Andrew Moore's 1999 color still from a baseball game. Anonymous photos depict Cubans in daily pursuits, although one such shot captures a pre-revolution celebrity moment: Hollywood stars Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor at Havana's Sloppy Joe's bar.
Will the glamorous past ever return? Should it? The photos are silent.
RIGHT ON! We haven't heard that phrase much, outside the time-frame of the photo exhibit subtitled "The Lennon Years 1968-1978" now hanging in an East Hampton barn. Yes, a barn. It's part of the Mulford Farm museum's bid to attract a wider audience. Susan Wood of Amagansett to the rescue. Her "Closeup" exhibit was such a draw last fall that the museum invited her back. Her candid photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, shot over several days in and around their home near London in 1968, steal the show. But there are also shots of politicians (effusive Teddy Kennedy), Hamptons habitués (Ralph Lauren and family), history-makers (Daniel Ellsberg), intellectuals (Susan Sontag, looking winsome) and beauties (Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, artfully nude Janice Dickinson (looking, well, beautiful).
Represented by Getty Images since 2004, Wood has gone on shoots for leading magazines of the time, from Look to Harper's Bazaar, and for movie studios (Paramount, UA, 20th Century Fox). She even helped seal a film deal. On a shoot for Look, she perused Dennis Hopper's Pop Art collection. "He and Peter [Fonda] needed to pitch 'Easy Rider' to potential backers. I suggested they describe it while I tape-record them," she recalls. "They brought the tape and came back with a check. We celebrated at the Brown Derby."
In Wood's photos, John and Yoko appear so at ease -- as if a close friend was taking museum-quality snapshots. "They were uneasy at first. I suggested, 'Why don't we go shopping?' We went to Kings Row. Didn't buy anything," Wood recalls. "When we got back, they were a little more relaxed."
The photos have never been exhibited before, Wood says. And they're for sale. Right on!
WHEN | WHERE Noon-5 p.m. Thursday, noon-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11-5 p.m. Sunday and noon-5 p.m. Labor Day, Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane
INFO Free; 631-283-0967, southamptoncenter.org
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 18, Mulford Farm, 10 James Lane, East Hampton
INFO Free with museum admission ($2-$4), 631-324-6850, easthamptonhistory.org