Blain|Southern is pleased to present Quinceañeras, Frank Thiel’s first exhibition with the gallery. Returning to portrait photography for the first time in over 20 years, Quinceañeras examines the tradition of the often lavish coming-of-age celebrations around a young woman’s fifteenth birthday in Cuba. Known for extensively researched projects that survey places in transformation, Thiel uses the quince tradition in Cuba as a metaphor for a culture in fux, creating a portrait of a generation of young women alongside that of a city rich in heritage yet coming to terms with change and decay.
Across Latin America, a girl’s fifteenth birthday is an important rite of passage and a celebration of her transition into adulthood. While each country has its own traditions, an essential part of the festivities is the idealised portrait shot by professional photographers, which often aim to reproduce the fantasy world depicted in high-fashion magazines. Thiel’s portraits of a generation of young women born in the year 2000 take a different approach, showing them in a single, consistent pose, in a range of everyday backdrops.
Working over a two-year period in close collaboration with his Cuban team and the families of the young women, Thiel photographed them in their own neighbourhoods in Havana. Drawn from across all fifteen municipalities of the Cuban capital, the unadorned locations act as a counterpoint to the often nostalgic or romanticised idea of the city and the life of its inhabitants. Thiel depicts Arlett Acosta Fajardo, for example, at a bus stop, while people in the background wait for their local public transport. Daniela Lucrecia Márquez Rivero stands in front an abandoned department store in Havana’s centre – the sign behind her reads Fin de Siglo: End of the Century. Thiel creates an atmosphere that shows both the young women and a nation in shared anticipation of an uncertain future.
Thiel’s interest in transformation is ever-present in his work, from his preoccupation with Berlin post-reunifcation, to the glaciers of Patagonia. Quinceañeras combines several elements that outline his artistic practice to date: architecture, the transitory moment and socio-political realities.