Rule Breakers: Mariette Pathy Allen

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Ann M. Jastrab, Gallery Director, Rayko Photo Center
Rule Breaker: Mariette Pathy Allen

I never want to see another picture made in Cuba. Now it’s true, photographs of vibrantly dressed people walking by vintage automobiles and old city walls with peeling paint and crumbling architecture are seductive. Especially when they are taken in the gorgeous light near the Tropic of Cancer, the earth tilting towards the sun like a gift each spring breaking my heart with its warmth. My time in the West Indies haunting me anew each time I see pictures made in that light. Well, it used to be each time. Even after viewing 20 or 30 portfolios of these pictures, they are still seductive. There is something about this place, frozen in time, which is magical and alluring. But at some point (maybe it’s around the 50th portfolio), you realize that not everyone can be Alex Webb.

And just when I thought I could never be won over again, that I was just too jaded and cynical about a country I’d ceased wanting to visit because of the multitude of images I’d seen of it, I saw Mariette Pathy Allen’s Transcuba pictures. I had seen her work before (she has long been a champion for the transgender community) and yet these were something new and different. Pictures that vibrated with the strength of their message. And also, this was Cuba as I’d never seen it. No cars. No colonial buildings. No kids playing soccer in that haunting light…The pictures were simple, just the truth of three transgender women who invited Allen into their world and their lives and opened the doors for her in their circles. The resulting images are moving and personal and when her subjects look back at the camera, there is trust and pride in their gaze. Allen’s project and the resulting book, Transcuba, document the transgender world in Cuba with empathy and compassion. Bravo, Mariette Pathy Allen, for bringing the stories of these brave individuals to light. And thank you for making me rethink my bias to photographs from Cuba. I am so impressed with the work that I’ll be showing it at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco this summer. Mark your calendars for the opening reception on June 25th, 2015!

—Ann M. Jastrab

Las Vegas Club, Havana
Malu and her parents and sisters in front of their home, Cienfuegos.
Natalie, with two self-portraits, Havana