The Historical Museum of Southern Florida’s Assignment Miami: News Photographers captures everything about Miami you thought you knew, but had no idea. From back in the day when it was acceptable for the Ku Klux Klan to march downtown Miami, to traumatic pictures of refugees frantically swimming from Biscayne Bay to the shore, to the recent pre-dawn snatch of Elian Gonzalez, Assignment Miami brings a no-holds-barred look at the photographs that have defined Miami to the public.
The real Miami, though, is somewhere between a tropical paradise and a neon-studded slum firmly twisted to the absurd. The old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” is well applicable here. Did you know that young Cuban men practiced hand-to-hand combat in a field near Tamiami Airport in the 1960s or that President-elect Franklin Roosevelt, the man solely responsible for saving the world from Nazism, was almost assassinated in Miami in 1933?
These pictures make us hearken the seriousness of events that have happened right in our backyard. Images of gang violence and civil inequality jump to the audience summoning an urgent “look-at-me!” quality. These, juxtaposed next to feature photos of vapid prepubescent girls on cell-phones outside a Broward County mall, really encapsulate just another day in the surreal humidity of Miami.
That’s all before we encounter that fun event-filled year of 2000 – the year known for single-handedly putting Miami on the map. Who can forget the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a screaming Elian Gonzalez confronted by an automatic weapon at the ass-crack of dawn? Or of the wonderful 2000 election, where pictures range from tired protestors sitting with that dejected look of inequality and unfairness on their faces to the infamous punch card ballots themselves, innocently photographed as if to deny their involvement in the scandal. Yes, Assignment Miami will give you, my friend, a history lesson that’ll make room for more credo in the city of vice and jiggling silicone breasts.
It’s not all serious matter, though – there are fun and games here (of course, it’s Miami). In one of the graphs, Janet Reno dances the night away at Level, and such a side-splitting image does justice to the pee-your-pants funny skit of Janet Reno’s Dance Party on “Saturday Night Live.” And who would have guessed hurricanes were entertaining? In preparation for Hurricane Georges, the Miami Metrozoo released all of their pink flamingos into the men’s bathroom. The resulting picture of a few dozen dazed and confused rose birds trying to fathom a toilet stall…well, there’s that twist of the absurd. Mix it all together (shaken, not stirred) and you’ve got one hell of a photography show.
Assignment Miami: News Photographers is at the Historical Museum of South Florida, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami, through January 25, 2004. Call 305-375-1492 for more info.
Sarah Giusti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org