I saw REVOLUCION: Five Visions yesterday. It was shown as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, which is just about the coolest programming available on television.
The film centers on the Cuban Revolution and five Cuban photographers who experienced it, one of them being René Peña. He's often compared to Robert Mapplethorpe, although I have mixed feelings about that and he doesn't see it aside from the fact that they both photograph nude black males. His work focuses on the duality of the individual as a perceived unique being but also as a being that is inextricably linked to the rest of society and it's ideologies and is therefore an "institutionalized" being. I find this completely engaging as it is something that I think about A LOT. He seems less hung up by it than I am though. The series "White Things" revolves around his experiences in the US and the high rate of consumption that happens here. I LOVE that, it is sooo up my alley and is interesting to me on so many levels. It is particularly relevant when you take into account that he has since moved back to Cuba, is living in an area that was once the enclave of the aristocracy two centuries ago (but has since turned into the African-Caribbean area, which is decidedly not moneyed), works out of his parent's kitchen at night while they sleep (!!!), and has a hard time getting his hands on resources due to the embargoes against Cuba. The other side of consumerism, really compelling stuff. Another photographer in the documentary also speaks to this issue when he says that the US is an exporter of propaganda, which is the propaganda of the American Dream. It sounds good but no one ever speaks to the other side of the dream, the one where thousands of people die trying to cross the border, who drown in the ocean, and who never make it across. That is another kind of consumerism, and perhaps the more critical consumerism, especially in light of the atrocious bill in Arizona that basically legalizes racism and racial profiling.
Anyway, back to René. I love his style of photography. I love that he sets up his images with simple props or settings, and that his photos are very dark and contrasty which I LOVE. He also shoots mostly black and white film (keepin it real) but is also starting to work with color and digital as well. Not really art crush status, but definitely an artist I like. Click on the link below the pic to check out some of his work, read a little more about him, and watch an interview.