A German Photographer’s Meditation on Havana’s Quinceañeras

“Dailys López Alejo, La Habana, Playa, Miramar,” 2016.

HAVANA, Feb. 10th  A quinceañera, or quince, is a lavish celebration held on a Latin American girl’s 15th birthday that marks her transition into womanhood. While each country has its own traditions, a reliable common denominator is the glamour factor, which includes ruffled confections of gowns and princess-worthy tiaras.

“Gabriela León Greenup, La Habana, Cerro, Latinoamericano (Carraguao)”,

Thiel’s photos are a visual feast: the poufy skirts! The bejeweled bodices! The gasp-inducing backdrops! Thiel, who has been celebrated for his photographs of Berlin’s post-wall urban flux and the disappearing glaciers of Patagonia, continues his exploration of transformation by contextualizing this rite of passage within each young woman’s neighborhood in Havana.
For these intimate portraits, Thiel focused on “the first generation of millennials born in 2000 to celebrate their Quince.” The outdoor settings are a direct inversion of the dreamy enchantment that typically characterizes quince photography — usually a professionally orchestrated, highly stylized affair.

“Donna Gladys Machado Sánchez, La Habana, Plaza de la Revolución, Rampa”, 2016.

Instead, the young women are positioned in front of twisting tangles of trees, the Havana skyline, and a lush, kudzu-draped forest. One levitates between an infinity pool and the ocean. Another stands before a bright blue backdrop, her tangerine dress contrasting with the geometric lattice work behind her.

Each young woman poses the same exact way: hands on hips, elbows out, looking into the camera. Every gaze crackles with presence — some smile, while others have a more ambivalent expression. Cumulatively, what emerges is a meditation on Havana’s scenery and a generation in flux.

“Naomi Francisca Dangel Rodriguez, La Habana, Playa, Kohly”, 2015

Thiel, born near Berlin in 1966, has exhibited extensively. His work is included in collections in major international museums and he is currently based in Berlin.
Photo: © Frank Thiel / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York