On one level, Arturo Cuenca resembles
a conventional photographer walking the street of a city, taking
photographs of incidents that strike his eye. He has developed
a keen sensibility to the cold beauties and ragged edges of
the urban environment; first in Havana and more recently in
New York City. But Cuenca is not following in the steps of Cartier-Bresson
or Robert Frank. The east 40s and 50s of Manhattan (or wherever
else he is taking pictures) are not the ultimate subject of
his work, which is a visual investigation not of social conditions
but their underlying philosophical structures.
In his series titled Homeless:
Subjective and Objective Images, Cuenca has created a brilliant
and moving discourse on the politics of seeing, the relationship
of viewer (and artist) to their subject. By taking the unprecedented
step of incorporating the subject's point-of-view into the work,
he upsets the traditional hierarchy of viewer and viewed. If
this were not enough, Cuenca's easy migration among different
mediums (photography, painting, photographic installations)
signals his distance from conventional photography. Each of
Cuenca's complex works, where one image dissolves into several,
reminds us that experience is multi-layered, overdetermined,
opaque. He employs an arraw of technical devices, from camera
focus to computer manipulation to inventive light-boxes, to
establish a new ethics-esthetic of the image.
Cuenca uses the critical awareness
of conceptual art to break down simplistic versions of the world.
But he also goes beyond the didactic limitation of much conceptual
art by offering the viewer a rich visual experience. His compressed
narratives elegantly reinvent the history of painting, photography,
and cinema; Cuenca has rejected nothing except the easy solution.