February 12, 2003: Features

Andrew Moore ’79 photographs architecture, but the stories of people are in every shot.

By Jessica Dheere ’93

Photographs: ©andrew moore, courtesy yancey richardson gallery

Baño Rojo

Biblioteca de los Alonso

El Almendrón

Escuela de Ballet

Andrew Moore ’79 in the Hermitage in St.
Petersburg, Russia. (By Ondrej Kubicek)

When Andrew Moore ’79 speaks about his photographs of Havana interiors, it’s easy to forget that what he takes pictures of is architecture. While the Princeton photography instructor does point out details like medio punto windows, Art Nouveau balconies, and Catalan arches in the 81 images compiled for Inside Havana, he’s equally inclined to elaborate on aspects of his compositions that casual observers may not see. “I think about the architecture, the color, and the light,” says Moore, 45, looking across an alcove in his Tribeca studio at one of his more recent photographs, a giant print of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. “And then I think about the story.”

Whether in Havana or Russia, Moore by no means treats the rooms and buildings he photographs as backdrops; rather they are characters in their own right, neither more nor less important than the other players: decay, alteration, renovation, neighboring structures, vegetation, and, of course, the inhabitants and passers-by. The goal, Moore says, is to relate “how contemporary history, and specifically cultures in transition, are expressed through architecture.”

In the Havana photo Biblioteca de los Alonso (opposite page), rusty golf clubs straddle the arms of two club chairs whose cracked leather upholstery spews its stuffing, while wood-frame tennis racquets lie abandoned on a sofa in what had been a genteel library. The owner of the house, José Alonso, and his family were “among the few wealthy Cubans not to have left after the revolution, so they stayed in their home,” explains Moore. “Those are José’s clubs, but since all the golf courses were closed down, except for one, he didn’t play anymore.”

Moore made his initial trip to Cuba in 1997, intrigued by what he had heard from European friends and colleagues. At first, he didn’t like it at all. But as he continued to knock on the doors of strangers, “the hidden things began to seduce me.” He returned six more times.

The hidden things, the elapse of years and intervening events that allow a set of golf clubs to become rusty, lurk like ghosts in Moore’s pictures. The story isn’t evident until he uses the architecture, color, and light to bring it into plain view. In La Campana (cover photo), a simple kitchen becomes the intersection where a heat-and-smoke-stained colonial-era chimney looming over a stone floor collides with an antique wood sideboard and a white New York City-apartment-sized gas stove.

“People ask me about Baño Rojo (left), was that bathroom really that color? Yes. It was an entirely pink room, down to the tiles,” says Moore. “The oval stained-glass window plays on the tradition of the medio punto, which was developed to refract harsh tropical daylight through color, but this window was unlike anything I had seen in Havana.” He adds: “José Alonso was actually born in that bathroom.”

Moore considers the residents of Havana and their admirable ability to “make do” an integral part of his tales. Drawing attention to a boy who happened to walk between a 1954 Chevy Belair and a hodgepodge façade as he took El Almendrón (page 12), Moore seems to revel in giving away the ironies and the double entendres of his photographs: “His head appears like a driver, except in reverse.”

A practicing photographer for more than 25 years, Moore studied at Princeton under Emmet Gowin and Peter Bunnell, graduating summa cum laude with an independent major in photography. He has shown his work extensively and has undertaken cinematic assignments, the most recent of which, How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary on the life of artist Ray Johnson, won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

Working primarily with an 8-by-10 large-format camera, much of his output has been large (from 30 by 40 inches to 50 by 60 inches) color prints of subjects as varied as Byzantine ruins, the boulevards of Bucharest, and the old theaters of Times Square. His photographs are in the collections of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, The Library of Congress, and the Princeton Art Museum, among other institutions. Chronicle Books, which published Inside Havana, will produce a volume of his work from Russia, where he has been taking photos for the past three years.

In 2001, Moore returned to Princeton as a visiting lecturer; his course, Digital Photography, is perhaps a strange assignment for a photographer who works with traditional tools and papers. He explains that his familiarity with new media developed on a “need-to-use basis. It began with using an inkjet to make proof prints.”

Now, after taking a picture, he scans the negative at high resolution and “adjusts the colors and the levels in a kind of painterly fashion,” he says. And while he uses typical light-sensitive photographic material, he prints his images from digital files using a printer that exposes the paper by laser, rather than the conventional process of projecting light through a negative in an enlarger.

Moore’s reliance on digital technologies has become a sort of hidden aspect of his photo-making. The conceit is fitting, as he considers himself part documentarian, part fiction writer with license to bend the truth to challenge assumptions.

“I’m interested in reality,” he says, “but I’m not a purist on any level.” One of his most haunting Havana photos is of what was to be the main performance pavilion for a ballet school (Escuela de Ballet, above). Light streams through an oculus in a grand dome. The stage is empty and so are the steps on which people would sit to watch a dance. Vines seem to have found their way through the opening. Presumably it’s a ruin, the photograph an elegy to a bygone age.

Not so fast, intimates Moore with his lens. Further inspection reveals that the vines – themselves dead – are attached to the rim of the oculus by grommets. It’s no homage to the Romantics; it’s the leftovers of a movie set.

Jessica Dheere ’93 writes about art, design, and architecture and is managing editor of Elle Decor.

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