Hampshire College student Julia Wadsworth’s Division III project, “Architecture Memories, Havana Interiors,” pairs urban documentary photography with social science.
In January 2002, Wadsworth was among a group of students who accompanied Hampshire photography professor Jacqueline Hayden to Cuba, where they completed the first systematic visual documentation of Old Havana in the city’s history, an archive they presented to the Office of the Historian.
Wadsworth found the vivid colors and textures so appealing that she wanted more time to photograph them. She also found herself wanting to know more about cultural, economic, and political realities of Cuba than she could observe in a month. She returned to Havana last fall through Hampshire’s semester in Cuba program, one of few, perhaps the only, U.S. study abroad program that allows for study with Cuban artists and intellectuals in settings outside of government-sanctioned programs.
Wadsworth photographed homes and neighborhoods, interviewing residents about change over time. She found that people spoke more openly when reflecting on space and environment; in this indirect way she learned a great deal about day-to-day life in Cuba.
Her photographs include interiors and exteriors, ranging from occupied apartments to deteriorating, abandoned houses. They raise as many questions as they answer. “I’m not content just looking at things. I see them and I want to know what happened,” said Wadsworth. “So much of life in Cuba feels ambiguous. I wanted people to draw conclusions for themselves from details as simple as a bicycle propped in a corner or paint peeling off walls.”
Her Div III includes a gallery show and an artist’s book, plus extensive reading, both nonfiction and fiction, about Cuba. For her show, she is creating Palmer Plate prints of selected photographs, with sepia tones on cream paper replicating the feel of etchings.
Professor Hayden is chairing Wadsworth’s faculty committee, with politics professor Carollee Bengelsdorf providing social science guidance. Book artist Amaryllis Siniosssoglou helped her develop skills necessary to create her artist’s book, which contains photos and narratives about each house. Deb Gorlin, co-director of the college’s writing program, has worked with her on the narratives, and Wadsworth said that learning editing skills, “what to include, what not to include,” is an important part of the project.
Following graduation, the Cleveland native will move to New York, and plans to continue working on her Cuba project. Havana’s Office of the Historian has inquired about the possibility of her doing a show there based on her Hampshire Division III. If that can be arranged, it would be particularly meaningful, as few American artists have had exhibitions in Cuba. Her mentor, Jacqueline Hayden, was the first to have a show in the Museo de Arts Decorativas, during January 2002. This past March, seven-and-a-half-foot ink jet prints from Hayden’s Figure Model Series were shown in the Grand Foyer of the Havana International Conference Center.