Michael Eastman’s photographs are portraits of architectural interiors that showcase the results of time and use amid grandeur, loyal to all of the physical imperfections and personal impressions caused by their unique histories. Michael Eastman’s photography presents, through a painterly use of color, a sense of quiet admiration and sincerity, private stages of human interaction and the untold stories still echoing within their walls.
In “Isabella’s Two Chairs with Laundry, 2000” and “Isabella’s Mirror, 1999” Michael Eastman engages in a visual relationship with private space. Here, the photographer creates a portrait of a home, revisiting the same residence years later. The images began in 1999, and the titles reveal the importance Isabella, the owner of the property, has as the main protagonist; the pictures are profiling her inner world, recording and dissecting the physical extensions of her life. Both photographs present a private space with a perplexing dichotomy. In Eastman’s images, there is a multi-dimensional understanding of what you are viewing; a luxurious home although with significant signs of deterioration, in which the architectural style, furniture, and chandelier show a regal but aging place in disrepair. The images also suggest a current presence; personal items of clothing drying from hangers, a blurry reflection from a mirror reveals stacks of books and an opposite view of the room. The photographs capture a vitality within this dilapidation that relays an enigmatic presence; perhaps someone had just exited the room, and someone was about to enter. The longer the viewer focuses on the image, the more mysterious and compelling the narrative becomes.
“Isabella’s Two Chairs, 1999, was one of the first interiors I made in Cuba of this woman named Isabella, very strong photograph…When I went back, I went right back to the same place to look at and to see Isabella’s. Isabella had died a month after I was there, she was not well, and her niece took over the house and there was an energy in there, there hadn’t been before. I noticed that the chandelier even, there were more crystals on it than before and when you look really close at the chandelier you’ll see that those additional crystals were put on by Isabella’s niece using the ties from grocery bags and stuff… Then, I went back in 2010, and it had been renovated. It was owned by the state of Cuba. All the charm and warmth, patina was gone.” – Michael Eastman
The photographs of Isabella’s house live in a moment between the generations. The mirrored furniture references perspective and time while helping the viewers orient themselves within the space. The reflection in the mirror connects both pictures and skews the notion of time; the large, ornate chandelier is present in the mirror’s reflection. The mirror can also be interpreted as alluding to art history, as a symbol of wisdom and self-knowledge or as the implication of vanity, the excessive admiration of self. Perhaps the mirror creates a narrative for Isabella’s house, touting a delicate balance between self-regard and honesty.
The absence of movement in Eastman’s images encourages the viewer to pause and wonder at the interior’s potential for endless stories. In a world gone by, still with a palpable sense of grace and dignity, now overburdened with the realities of the present. Eastman’s pictures are symbolic of the hardships that time has had on the island. In Eastman’s photographs, time reveals itself in a way that visually exposes the layered events of Havana’s history.
“He doesn’t pretend to have a handle on the real Cuba (even those of us born there would hesitate to do that), to be an expert, to know or speak for us. That lack of pretension, that open embrace, is, quite frankly, a relief. It also makes the work in Havana like no other: Honest. Wondrous. And so beautiful, sometimes, it hurts. Just like Havana itself.” – Achy Obejas
Michael Eastman’s photographs are hauntingly beautiful; afterimages that linger, carrying with them mysterious narratives that portray the ultimate fascination of a human touch. The pictures capture the independent character and individuality of the human presence, which are made possible through the sheer conviction of creating a meaningful and dignified refuge.