Amanda Vallina says that after moving to New York to pursue her BFA in Photography in 2015, her photographs started becoming a tribute to the city that raised her, Miami, Florida. Miami is heavily influenced by Cuban culture, she says, from cigar smoking to dominoes played at every opportunity. But once she visited Cuba, she resolved to explore how Miami’s contemporary and Old World glamour is a complex mix drawn from both.
Cubans make up 52 percent of the Miami population, so Miami truly is a little Cuba. Most people who call Miami home still have relatives and a piece of their heart in Cuba. They have taken the city and made it like the Cuba they remember and loved. Some neighborhoods like Little Havana are even named after the places in Cuba they came from.
Vallina says it was necessary for her to experience Cuba “and take in the place my grandparents once called home. Part of the experiencing, I felt should involve photographing the people and the beautiful architecture there.”
She made the trip in the summer of 2018. “I became heavily influenced by the architecture and pop of colors, which is the constant variable within my photographs,” she said. “I was able to capture the history and add my own twist and style with the choice of model and clothing in each shoot.”
Vallina describes her photographs as contemporary, but she says they “also reflect a time when women and fashion were synonymous with luxury, polish, and fantasy. Fashion to me is important.”
Gerard Dellova, Fashion Design professor and trend forecaster at Trend House sees Vallina’s work in a broader fashion context. “We’re seeing a lot of references to the 70s, disco era and the glam of the early 80s in fashion right now. The trend direction is very big. That’s where I see this. People are wanting that very playful, carefree, up, vibe, which is in contrast to political and social unrest.”
While Vallina’s work might be Miami or Havana, “it’s also reminiscent of Studio 54,” says Dellova.
Dellova also appreciates the aspect of irony in some of Vallina’s work. “This photo [above] of this glam refugee in a plastic glitter tube [referenced as a “raft”] is completely witty. It’s irreverent and satirical.”
Vallina agrees. “I was inspired by everything 80s from the portable radio down to the eyeshadow. The blimp in the corner is a subtle tribute to ‘Scarface,’ which is the most iconic movie based in Miami,” she says.
Before the trip, says Vallina, “I drew inspiration from women hanging on the arm of the man. I wanted to display the power of women and the luxury of fashion by switching power dynamics in my pieces.” For example, the photo of the model in the suit next to the luxury sports car (above) “would have been shown as a male posing in a suit next the car.”
Says Brad Paris, Chair of Photography, “We really recognized the way Amanda’s images work together from the full-sized prints. Some are classic fashion photography with a Cuban twist, some have a subtle irony, and several are laugh-out-loud funny. I’m particularly fond of the photograph of Amanda’s great grandmother drinking a mojito and watching the pool boy,” he says.
Vallina says her trip to Cuba “led me to reflect on the beauty that is in both Miami and Cuba.
“I went on my trip with the intention of turning my photo documentation of the island into my senior thesis. It turned into a project that showed the heritage running through Miami’s streets. It showed that Miami is like no place else.”
Vallina titled her thesis “Miami Vices,” seeing it as a long-term continuing project on a subject that she can document in different ways.
All photos used with permission.