Photographing in Cuba

Bride, riding along the Malecon, Havana

 

I had the opportunity to visit Cuba in 2013 and spent a couple of weeks taking pictures, mostly in Havana. Despite the volume of photography that has already been produced in Cuba there is a wealth of material there, and you can quickly move beyond the photographic cliches that have become synonymous with the place. In hindsight, I actually regret that I deliberately chose to avoid one of these cliches, the classic cars from the 50's that Cubans have painstakingly maintained and kept on the road. There is really no cliche that can't be re-examined with fresh eyes and portrayed in a different or more revealing manner. Still, I chose to focus more on the people and the street life, and to some degree on the architecture, which in it's state of decay and neglect offers a rich tapestry that perhaps reveals more about this place than anything else.

 

Basketball game at a public park, Havana

 

In spite of the recent changes in the economic and political landscape Cuba remains a place where a certain authenticity has not yet been erased by the homogenizing effects of renovation and renewal. It's still a place where commerce, long kept in check by a moribund economic system, has yet to mar the landscape with billboards, messages, and sales pitches. You won't see walls whitewashed here, emblazoned as you might in Mexico with corporate brands such as Coca Cola or Pepsi. But the change is coming. It's already visible in the clothes people wear, with their designer labels and styles. Long suppressed by limited choices and scarcity, people are eager to express their individuality and freedom. This freedom is also expressed in the warmth and openness with strangers that one seldom finds elsewhere. People are friendly in Cuba. They haven't tired of outsiders, and don't mind if you take pictures. I found the best way to do this was to smile, say hello, and extend a hand. 

 

Woman leaning on a window, smoking

 

An impromptu chess match in the street

 

There's an immediacy to the street life in Cuba that's wonderful to photograph. Teeming with people, the streets are a theater of everyday life. The vibrancy of interactions between long time friends and neighbors, the habitual routines of residents as they go about their daily business was the subject I set out to portray. This is a place you can practice street photography almost at will. Even in the back alleys of poor neighborhoods, away from the tourist traffic, you can work with relative safety, confident that security is not a problem. I never felt like an unwelcome intruder here. No one was offended that I took their picture. With some sensitivity and understanding you can photograph the lifestyle here, meet new people and make some friends.

 


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