Before this project in Havana, you did a series called ‘Once And Future Queens’ focused on women you found on the Internet that dressed up like classic Hollywood stars—actually, dressed themselves as Hollywood stars using clothes and jewelry they already had. Does that project connect to this one at all? They both seem like they’re about people reacting to and interacting with media. I’m definitely interested in the world created by Hollywood, and how that transmits. This work in my mind is very different from [my last exhibit], “Once and Future Queens”, because that work, in my mind, is very performative. But it comes from the same place of Hollywood—this idea of capturing a space that’s somewhere in between fantasy in reality. In these pictures it’s clear where that place is, because the spaces themselves are very real. But then what’s coming through the TVs is fantasy, whether it’s soap operas, or Hollywood movies or propaganda. When people see these Hollywood movies, it’s like they are seeing this culture that they’re not a part of—that doesn’t really exist for anyone. In Cuba, it’s even more profound—this contrast between Hollywood and their immediate surroundings.
When I was in Cuba, I noticed that people who had access to satellite TV through a relative in Miami would tune into channels that showed nothing but movie trailers. They would never order any of these trailers to view in full—they would just watch the movie trailers one after the other. Did you see any of that? No, and I didn’t see any satellite boxes. All the places I went to were just houses that I just peeked my head into. I was seduced by the glow of the TV sets spilling out of open doors onto pitch-black streets, and I decided to photograph it. Looking at the TV sets in Havana was a fascinating way to explore the city. Maybe I wasn’t able to find people with access to satellite boxes. But I did see what they were watching. The thing that was the most popular were the telenovelas—the soap operas. People were totally addicted to them. When the telenovelas were on, the streets were totally quiet because everyone was inside at their friend’s house. It was basically like a party. But no one was speaking—they were just in a trance, watching these telenovelas. That, for me, was the most profound of the viewing habits they had. It was such a part of their culture, socially—that people connect around the TV set.