The subjects of this project are mostly Cuban. They represent various ages, races, classes, religious beliefs and non-beliefs. But they all share a universal longing for a better life, and this yearning was expressed in their pilgrimages to the revered tomb of Amelia Goyri de Adot who died in childbirth in 1901 and was buried with child at the Colón cemetery in Havana, Cuba. Amelia is affectionately referred to as La Milagrosa (“The Miraculous One”).
Amelia’s devotees shared their stories with me, tales both joyous and sorrowful; afterward I invited them to pose for a portrait without prompting. I used a medium format camera with black and white film, natural light and a neutral backdrop, isolating my subjects from the surrounding activity. These simple elements afforded us an intimate encounter. Ordinary people with extraordinary faith presented themselves in front of my camera with dignity and grace. Many spoke with candor, while others seemed to keep secrets. And that’s the beauty and complexity of a portrait: It can reveal as much as it can conceal.
[Foot Note] 24-year-old Amelia Goyri de Adot died in childbirth in 1901. She was laid to rest with the body of her dead child between her feet in the Necropolis Cristóbal Colón in Havana, Cuba. According to local legend, when she was exhumed some years later, word quickly spread that her body was found intact – a sign Roman Catholics believe indicates sanctity – but that her baby was now cradled in her arms. Amelia’s tomb soon became a heavily visited shrine. The people I encountered visited La Milagrosa to pray for themselves and for loved ones, as well as to give thanks for a wish granted. They bring offerings of flowers and gifts such as a newborn’s first clothes, a model of a house, or a “thank you” plaque. The local Roman Catholic Church does not officially give credence to the legend surrounding the tomb and for government administrators; it is a point of contention due to the popularity of the shrine among Cubans.