By Albert Smith
Originally published on Advocate.com February 13 2010 6:00 AM ET
Raised on a farm in small town Ontario, Kevin Slack received his degree in Visual Arts and English at the University of Western Ontario where he studied painting, film photography, and eventually education. After, Kevin painted murals, travelled, and taught English, living first in Korea and then Ecuador where he really should have learned how to salsa.
Now based in Toronto, Kevin has been visiting his favorite exile, Cuba, since 2000, documenting the country and especially the men, while building an extensive portfolio. While that country is tilted on the edge of change, Kevin continues to return, trying to uncover the restless and vital spirit of Cuba and Cuban men. While he focuses mainly on Havana, Kevin has traveled the island from Pinar del Rio to Holguin. Kevin continues to try to resolve a plan for living and working in Cuba if he could and if he could take his dog.
Why are you a photographer?
I am a photographer by accident mainly. And then maintained through a single-minded doggedness. In art school, I was categorically a painter. I took one film photography course and while I loved the alchemy of the process, I produced nothing of any value. My second time to Havana, much later, I happened upon some handball players and asked to take some photographs. After we dispensed with all the posing and thumbs-upping, I photographed them at their sport and I was so enamored of that moment, of that experience, that I kept at it. I still have trouble separating the product, the photograph, from the process, the process of finding my models and putting together a shoot in Cuba.
What catches your eye?
Accidents, a person stumbling, an embarrassed smile, fleeting moments of no particular meaning. Also empty spaces and beautiful unconstructed lighting. And all manner of skin and anatomy. And the incongruous.
How do you choose your subjects?
It is the process more than the product that keeps my camera with me. I love the guerilla tactics necessary to get by shooting in Cuba.
The men: My models are not otherwise models. I find them on the street, or meet them through friends of friends. A quick audition might happen on the street or in my rented apartment or at a party. Are my models, my men, Cuba’s men? Do they represent Cuba? They do most sincerely for me. The men of Cuba, so many of them, are blazingly beautiful. They have a resolved fierceness of spirit and an unfettered sexuality that reveals itself in their bodies and I hope in the photographs.
The spaces: it’s hard not to be inspired by Cuba’s backdrop and I love exploring it. I love to get lost, looking for new spaces. My ever-elusive alchemy: the right space, the right light, the right time, the right model, the right story.
How do you describe your work?
To be honest, I try not to. It always comes back to me with more meaning or other meanings than I ever intended. And that’s better. True, the camera filters my experience but it also causes many of my experiences in Cuba. I have everlasting friendships in Cuba because of the process. Whatever the product means, I haven’t needed to altogether decide yet.
What makes a good photograph to you?
A good photograph gets past the eyes. We are an overwhelmingly visual culture. If an image can get past the eyes to someplace deeper, it succeeds. I don’t always succeed. And sometimes I don’t even know when I succeed.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
Rather predictably, Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts, the twin pillars of male photography – we are, so many of us are, all looking for our Fred with Tyres moment. But I also love Constantin Brancusi for his bold and whimsical simplicity and Henri Matisse for his compositions and rhythms. And, returning to the camera, Rick Day for his technical proficiency and casting, Frank Louis for what he gets out of his models and Joe Oppedisano for his fierce and unapologetic take on male sexuality.