The Habana Series


So I haven’t written this up proper, and since I am in Columbus and the camera is out in some freezing parking lot blocks away, I’ll back up a moment to my weekend in Kansas City a little over a month ago.

It was the Saturday after I accompanied Art to the Charlotte Steet Fund exhibit opening. He was speaking with the other artist’s for a Q&A session. Aside from this, the day gave me the opportunity to go through the gallery without the crowd and din of conversation and see his work without distraction.

His series of black and white photographs was separate from the rest of the show, in a side room. Arranged on three walls in a U configuration, the prints echoed the layout of the Habana “resort” in Oklahoma City – the location we were introduced some months earlier at the Great Plains Rodeo. Standing in the middle of the room, looking around, you can get a sense of the place, and of what goes on there.

The Habana has several nightclubs and bars that attract regular blue collar gay men from around the Midwest. After last call, the deck above the pool becomes the place to continue the evening. Where men walk around and peer into rooms. They lurk in the shadows. Doors cracked, an invitation.

At first glance, these are simply photos of men looking into the windows of motel rooms. The figures are in motion. The lighting is natural. Dark.

What he has captured here, with camera placed in stealth, is the glance.

The cruise.

Something I have averted after countless failure and varying degrees of discomfort.

The photos are fascinating. The suggestion. The expressions. The hunt.

As Art spoke of his work that afternoon, a hush fell over the audience as they realized the context.

My own feelings are much harder to resolve, other than I like the photos very much, on many levels. It’s hard to separate my reaction though, after being privy to the process.

Feeling privy though, seems to sum up what the photos represent, and it’s evocative.

With the proliferation of camera phones, new legislation is being introduced to ban taking and disseminating pictures of people in “sensitive or compromising states.” In fact, a congressman from Ohio is the author of a bill passed by the Senate on this very issue. There’s relevance beyond the walls of the gallery it seems.

The Kansas City Star wrote up a favorable review of the show, and Art’s work. Again, a warm feeling of recognition swept over me as I heard Art’s grin through the receiver of the phone as told me about the article.

Privy, again.