Cuban Boy with Bike and Game

Cuba Boy w Bike n game_tif480
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5 Essays

  1. Brigitte Jordan | Consulting Corporate Anthropologist, Palo Alto Research Center says:

    Rachel was an expert in showing transitions and unlikely juxtapositions. In many of the pictures, what catches your eye is the unexpected combination of things, the fact that she populates her pictures with inherently unlikely pieces of a puzzle that invite you to put it together for yourself.

    Here is a young boy in Cuba, on the doorstep of a building, in what does not look like an affluent neighborhood (cobble stones and raw surfaces), his bicycle leaning against the wall, totally engrossed in some hand-held techno game. In the body posture, the way he holds the artifact, and the complete absorption, this is a familiar picture for all of us who have children in their lives. Only one doesn’t just necessarily expect it in that neighborhood, in Cuba, and at the end of the twentieth century.

    What this picture reminds us of is the extent to which globalization, through formal and informal channels, is covering our world with techno gadgets and the extent to which those gadgets are eagerly and often unexpectedly, incorporated in people’s lives. Here is another example:

    Recently we were hiking in the hills behind Chichicastenango, a famous Indian market town in Guatemala Rachel also photographed. On market days, the town is transformed with vendors coming from the countryside, putting up booths in every street, or just squatting on the side walks, especially around the plaza in front of the main church. A wonderful and interesting mixture of Indian and missionary practices carried out side by side. A bedlam of sights and sounds in a cloud of burning copal (incense) on the steps of the main church.

    When we had had enough of the market, we went for a little hike in the mountains around the town. We had heard that there was a stone idol somewhere up there, but were rather surprised when we actually happened upon it. Just as we prepared to get a closer look, a man and a woman arrived whom we took to be a couple. Wrong. Turned out he was a Mayan shaman there with his client, an Indian woman in the colorful traditional garb, and they were preparing a ceremony for whatever the woman’s problem was.

    We ended up standing there for two hours, watching them on their knees, praying with outstretched arms to Pascual Abaj, imploring him to help with whatever was the problem. We watched the shaman build an offering, a circle of sugar, filled with copal, then with dozens of candles of different colors, mostly white and orange, pointing to the center (though the black ones were turned upside down), 12 thick cigars of tobaco puro, two cakes of chocolate, candy, and some kind of liquor. At some point he set all of that aflame.

    As the shaman was pleading with the spirit in a loud voice, on his knees in front of the idol, with the woman standing behind him with outstretched arms holding bunches of candles – this really unbelievable thing happened: the woman’s cell phone rang.

    She picked it up. Talked animatedly for a minute or so (again in Quiche as all of their interaction had been), handed the phone to the shaman; he talked for another minute, hung up, and they went on imploring the idol without missing a beat.

    Globalization? Rachel would have loved it!

  2. Patricia Pugliani | Stony Brook University says:

    American ways of life have been exported all over the world - even to young children, as this photo illustrates. The young Cuban boy has put aside his bicycle for the more sedentary pastime of playing an electronic game. Will the next American export be our obesity epidemic?

  3. Martin Barron | Sociologist, National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago says:

    With the centrality of the automobile to everyday American life, it is easy to forget how peripheral - even insignificant - cars are to the majority of people on Earth. While in America there is nearly one car for every two people, in sub-Saharan Africa, there is slightly more than one car for every one hundred people (Development Data Group, The World Bank. WorldDevelopment Indicators Online. Accessed January 2006. Available online at Washington, D.C.: The World Bank).

    For most of the world, bicycles fill the central transportation mode that cars fill for America – there are 1.4 billion bicycles worldwide compared to 340 million automobiles. (Benjiman, Ed. Earth Day action: Ride an electric bike! Available online: Sebastapol, CA: PRNewswire.).

    These photos capture both the utilitarian role bicycles play in many people's lives but also seem to depict the more personal relationship between bicycle and owner. These photos suggest a connection between bicycler and bicyclist. When the cyclist is present, as he is in Cuba Boy with Bike and game, it is easy to imagine a bond much like that many Americans develop with their cars as the car/bicycle acts as symbol representing its owner’s values and status.

  4. Ray Maietta | Sociologist, ResearchTalk, Inc. says:

    The use of photography as a qualitative research method continues to increase. In photographs we find stories that teach us about a culture, which hints about history and everyday life contained in a snapshot. A good photograph inspires a researcher to question and observe at the same time. Researchers note and query the photographer’s content and its context and the photograph challenges the researcher’s beliefs and understandings.

    This photograph shows a young boy with a hand-held game. As I have little knowledge of Cuban culture, it makes me raise basic questions about Cuba. The street, the bike, the independence, the mood, the comfort…are these common? What is happening in the day? Is it rare for young children to have hand-held games? The photograph makes me feel uncomfortable with my lack of knowledge of Cuban culture and raises questions I want to answer. That makes for good qualitative research and good sociology.

    Photographs can be used as a stand-alone part of qualitative analysis, but more often become part of a larger research agenda. Photography is commonly used early in a research project to help set the stage for what to study and question. If I were to pursue a study of the everyday life of grade school children in Cuba, this photograph would direct me to explore several issues: How do young people use free time? How much free time do they have? What activities, games, toys, and sporting equipment do they have access to? Is there differential access to opportunities for recreation across the culture?

    When a photograph can set an agenda for study and provide concrete evidence for answers to questions it is a powerful tool for qualitative researchers.

  5. anthrobone says:

    As a kid in the 1980s, two of my favorite activities were riding bikes and visual technologies that enabled access to other worlds. I also have a lifelong interest in Latin American cultures and travelled to Central and South America in college and graduate school. I am currently conducting dissertation research with youth media makers in Appalachia and how they use visual art and media to envision possibilities for themselves and the region. So when I saw this photo by Rachel Tanur, I was immediately drawn into the narrow focus of the “Cuban Boy with Bike and Game” and shared a similar captivation as she captured on his intent face.

    Aesthetically, I love the contrasting texture and neutral tones of the brick street and building with the vibrant colors and sleekness of the quite new-looking bicycle. I also love the seeming contrast of the human-powered transportation technology of the bicycle juxtaposed with the electronic video game; however, both represent different forms of mobility in relation to Appadurai's notion of different -scapes or movements of people, technologies, etc. The boy is also wearing neutral tones, but his physical and visual connection to both devices and his level of concentration prevent the camouflage of his presence in the doorway. The continuous line from his elbow, his knee, his hands, to the game and the handlebar of the bike make it seem as if they are all one entity.

    The fact that there are no other people around furthers the metaphor and illusion that he is in his own little world. Does he notice Rachel? Do they speak? There is also mystery as to what game he is playing, on what device, how he got it, why he is playing in that location, and where the bike will take him next. The game could be an escape from chores or even harsher realities, but it also connects the boy to larger global systems, including capitalism, in spite of the fact that he lives in Cuba. Of course, we do not know his exact geo-political location based on the content of the photo, but we are still given clues about the Global South context in which he bridges assumptions about technological access and engagement. Similarly, young people in the Appalachian region and the media content they produce similarly challenge assumptions about who they are and how their people and place are represented.

    There is also an important temporal dimension to this photo given the time period it was likely taken (mid-late 1990s?) and the rapid acceleration of technology and electronic devices globally. Tanur captured this particular moment and this particular game, but the underlying theme of ubiquitous technology and its association with youth can be applied to almost any time period. Therefore, it provides an interesting opportunity for the viewer to imagine and insert newer games or information/communication technologies into the picture with ease. I could list examples from the current moment of 2018, but it would be more productive to invite viewers to fill in the blanks appropriate to their own temporal present: ___, ___, ___, etc.

    As a feminist scholar who teaches media literacy and production to teenage girls, I also reimagine the scene with a Cuban girl instead and ponder what she might hold in her hands so intently. Technologies are often gendered, and digital technologies are usually represented as a masculine area of expertise and occupational possibility. Access to physical mobility is also a gendered experience, so the image of a “Cuban Girl with Game and Bike” would disrupt multiple narratives about circulations of knowledge, technologies, and gendered bodies. What assumptions would this image challenge, and what questions would it raise? Would it have mattered to her that Rachel was a woman photographer interested in her story? The window of possibilities that Rachel Tanur captured with this photo and the technology that produced it are simultaneously time-specific and timeless, place-based and placeless, gendered and genderless.