Exploring Havana Through Ron Tarver’s Kneeling Boy

Focused on examining the illusive qualities of Havana, Cuba, Kneeling Boy is part of Tarver’s Havana: A Place Out of Time (1999) series. The photograph, part of a series of vignettes meant to exemplify the mystery and perhaps misunderstanding of a city, which, for so long, was kept a mystery from outsiders. Havana, in Tarver’s words, is “lethargically energetic, immaculately filthy, an illusive illumination,” and this contradiction of qualities, paired with its distinguished removal from the outside world for so long, make it a subject worth exploring. Tarver is able to capture this city, in all its surreal glory, through his series, and Kneeling Boy is no exception.

Ron Tarver, Kneeling Boy

There is something brilliant about the perspective of this photograph, as Tarver takes to a Vermeer-esque perspective, an outsider looking in through the archway of a building, finding a boy, blissfully unaware, kneeled without clear intention. The image itself appears in a warm haze, like a dreamscape, a place you can see but cannot tangibly feel. With automobiles and infrastructure that have not evolved with time, a city suspended in remnants of mid-century life, there is a dream-like quality to the city of Havana. The tone of this photograph presents less answers than it does questions, in a way that parallels a Western understanding of the city at large. Tarver is able to perfectly exemplify common notions of Havana while also bringing a soft, sympathetic lens to the city, to its mystery, and to its brilliant contradictions.

The emotionality of Tarver’s work with Havana, which is seen in Kneeling Boy, as well as other pieces from the collection, does not shy away from using poetics to develop and embolden the strange qualities of this city. It encourages the viewer to look deeper, and with each view peeling back a layer only to reveal a greater mystery, a misunderstanding, and the dynamases of Havana. Good photojournalism answers the questions it is given, but brilliant photojournalism leaves the viewer with, yes, some answers, but a desire to ask even more questions. That is the artistry in Ron Tarver’s examination of Havana, and that is the radiance of his work. 

During our annual art auction, The Benefit, Ron Tarver’s Kneeling Boy will be available for bidding, both online through Givesmart, and in-person by appointment. 

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