Perhaps it takes an artist to convey the emotional complexity of immigration. Immigration is a rancorous topic in political debates all across the map, especially given recent legislation in Arizona and ethnic violence in Kyrgystan. Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gomez, widely-exhibited photographers in Miami who work as a team, are authors of the exquisite book, Witness Number 4 (published by The Joy of Giving Something in 2008, distributed by Nazraeli Press, 96 pages, 77 four-color images)
At once tender and tough, the book is informed by their departure from Cuba as youngsters in the 1960s. The two fled Castro's regime in Cuba to make a new life and career in the United States, as did other Cuban-born photographers of their generation in this book, Tony Mendoza and Abelardo Morell. The book belongs to the innovative "Witness" series of books produced by the Joy of Giving Something, Inc.
Del Valle and Gomez have framed their book with apt quotations from the first and last pages of a classic 1965 book in Cuban literature, View of Dawn in the Tropics by Guillermo Caberera Infante. With poetic prose, Infante recounts the history of Cuba, starting with the Spanish slaughtering of the island's indigenous population and continuing through the rise of Castro's dictatorship. In statements by the artists beginning their respective sections of this book, they write about resisting nostalgia and making creative new lives after leaving their homeland.
The photographs in the book, with each section reflecting a a distinct aesthetic, convey a wealth of imaginative ways one can move forward after the tumultuous experience of immigration. Returning over many years to photograph Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, del Valle and Gomez document how simple huts built by Maya descendants have changed, as urban growth significantly alters the once remote surroundings of these huts. As powerful visual metaphors, the huts suggest ways that immigrants evolve and change. In photographs capturing the point of view of his short-legged pet dog, Mendoza the adult evokes a child's distorted view of the world to parallel his childhood memories of Cuba. Morell's fascinating camera obscura photographs combine upside-down images of cities and countryside with right-side-up images of interior rooms. In the context of this truly exceptional book, all these remarkable photographs show how leaving home is a universally disorienting experience, but that it is possible to come to terms with the troubling past and move into a vibrant present.