The University of Alabama

‘Side by Side’ Photo Exhibit Unites UA’s Cooper with Cuban Colleague Martí

This image by Chip Cooper is among those that will be displayed in the 'Side by Side' exhibit.

“Lado a Lado — Side by Side,” a joint exhibit that opens Oct. 11 in the Grand Gallery of Smith Hall, represents a unique collaboration between two international colleagues: UA photographer Chip Cooper and Cuban photographer Néstor Martí.

Cooper, an instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences, became involved in the photographic research project with Martí through the Alabama-Cuba Initiative, a University effort spearheaded by Dr. Robert F. Olin, Arts and Sciences dean.

“As part of Chip Cooper’s ongoing research responsibilities, as a member of the faculty of The University of Alabama, Chip is able to work alongside Nestor Marti in this unique and international project,” Olin says.

Néstor Martí (left) and Chip Cooper

Cooper and Martí began collaborating in 2008, shooting photographs of the picturesque area of Old Havana in Cuba’s capital city at the behest of Eusebio Leal Spengler, director of the Old Havana restoration project. The photographs explore the Old Havana area, which revived as a business and residential area under Leal’s care.

“The two photographers present Havana in its entire beauty, its multiple and diverse faces, and its proverbial humanity,” Leal says. “It is this humanity that is essential, for it is well known that Cuba’s capital seduces all visitors, first and foremost because of its peoples’ hospitality and nobility.”

Cooper and Marti went out in tandem to photograph Old Havana, sometimes shooting different angles of the same street or building. Inspired by the work of 20th-century American photographer Walker Evans, they try to present the humanity of the city.

“This is the first time a Cuban and an American have collaborated on anything of this magnitude,” Cooper says. “We were both used to working independently, but in the end, we became brothers in revealing what people usually wouldn’t see – faces, streets or different accents of light on buildings.”

The show originally was presented in 2009 at the Julio Larramendi Gallery in the Hostal de l’Habana in Cuba. Since then, the photographers have added photographs; about 50 percent of the images are new, Cooper says. The UA press will publish the photos in a book in fall 2010.

Martí graduated from the University of Havana in 1997 with a degree in art history. He studied photography, advertising and fashion from 1993 to 1998. He is employed as a photographer in the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, where he works as a photojournalist.

Cooper was director of photography for the University for 33 years. He now teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences and is an artist-in-residence in Honors College. He received his bachelor of arts from the University in 1972 followed by post-graduate work in photography.

While working for the University he was published in Horizon Magazine, Antique Monthly, Antiques & Fine Arts Magazine, Newsweek, Village Voice, USA Today, Modern Maturity, Northeast Orient Magazine, Alabama Heritage, Sophisticated Traveler – The New York Times, Mercedes International, Veranda and Southern Accents.

A reception for the opening of the exhibit will be from 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the gallery. Faculty, staff, students and the community are welcome to attend. The event is part of UA’s Cuba Week, which runs through Oct. 13.

UA’s Alabama-Cuba Initiative, now in its eighth year, has brought UA and Cuban educators together to establish opportunities for graduate student research, teaching and formal course work for undergraduate students at Cuban academic institutions. Since 2002, UA has received academic travel licenses from the U.S. Department of the Treasury that permit travel to Cuba for specific academic activities as part of the Cuba-Alabama Initiative. The license also provides opportunities for UA to invite Cuban scholars to the University for scholarly activities and for UA students to attend the University of Havana for a semester.