RAW: SALA – Two Countries, Two Cameras By Ben McGee and Nerissa Stanley – Urban Cow Studio – 4K

Street Games by Ben McGee

SALA arrived early last night at the Urban Cow Studio where two young photographers, Ben McGee and Nerissa Stanley opened their exhibition of a combined 31 images of Cuba (and Trinidad) and India. The idea of the exhibition was hatched some time ago as each set about their separate travels.

For Ben this is his second exhibition following on from the successful Wanderlust and here he has taken time off from his Geology PhD studies to travel to Cuba, live with locals and observe the country. And what a fine job he has done.

All but one of his works are in black and white, no more than 30 cm in the longer dimension and nicely framed. His visit coincided with the change in Cuban’s political leadership from one Castro to another but all embraced the blight that 50 years of isolation from the US has brought.

Vedado By Ben McGee

There are many fine images including Fidel, capturing Fidel Castro’s first appearance on state TV in years at the time of his transfer of power, Street Games (above) featuring children playing football, Gran Teatro de La Habana, a downward view of a wonderful tiled floor and grand staircase of the only operating theatre in the city, Policia, an inspired composition of police lingering on the street below with dark ominous shadows stretching forth and, perhaps the most outstanding Vedado (left), a wonderful capture of a lone boy on a wet street with line funelling down on him.

However, as good as any of these images are, for a photo essay like this to really succeed the photographer needs to marshal a collection that captures in their totality the look and feel of the subject matter – what Ben describes in the case of Cuba as ‘the intense contrast of great joy and happiness mixed with sadness and hardship, youthfulness and age.’ This he does in trumps – one has a very sense of place and people and a political regime that pervades, snuffing out hope for the older citizens and oblivious to possibilities and responsibilities to its youth.

This is an excellent series of images that warrant a visit, especially if you have spent any time in Cuba.

Perhaps with less enthusiastic passion, I can comment on Nerissa Stanley’s images of India which while enjoyable, mostly colourful, featuring people often in market places, seem to lack the daring do and sense of natural connection of place of McGee’s work. Golden Temple, Armristar is perhaps the best though there seems a lot of potential was left in the country itself. A fascinating place like Agra (net even of the Taj Mahal nearly) deserves rather more than a series open doorways.

But for a talented go at capturing a place, in a country, to be sure, that is never easy for women, Nerissa Stanley’s work acts a nice compliment to McGees and is also worth the visit.

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