As I reflect on my time in Cuba, I can see how the mission for my photography is continuing to develop. My approach, interest, talent, artistic intent, is to express a sense of place, to observe what makes a place unique and then to show it to others with as much clarity as I can possibly muster.
I do not focus on landmarks, except to show how they form a backdrop to everyday life. I do not agonize about historic facts and dates, except to understand how they are expressed in the present. And although I thoroughly enjoy museums and visitor destinations, I prefer to walk with the people than to revisit the stories as written by the victors.
And so it was with Cuba, with precious little time, uncertain in my abilities to capture what I felt, I did what I could.
I walked the streets, smelled the smells, listened to the roar of classic American cars, the bird songs on the Prado, the whistles of the biciTaxis (pedicabs), children playing, and the waves crashing against the Malecón. I awoke with the city to see neighborhood workers buying coffee out of residential windows and children walking to school. Old cars set against older buildings. The Cuban people invite you into their homes, hoping the tourist will provide for a CUC (equivalent to $1 USD) or soap or other commodity that they can use to barter for whatever they might need. Everything is used and reused, mended and repaired. The way they care for their belongings remind me of my grandparents generation who, having lived through the American depression of the 1940s, saved everything.
Spanish colonial architecture, in much less than perfect condition, abounds. It must have been a sight when all was pristine and glowing. It is surreal with grand buildings abandoned except for the 3rd floor which is home to the most sought after paladar (private restaurant) in Havana Vieja.
With the legalization of small private businesses, Cuba is in at a tipping point of change. The economic pyramid is upside-down. Educated professionals – doctors, electricians, researchers – make the equivalent of 15 to 25 dollars a month. A taxi driver will make this in a day. Havanan’s serve coffee out their front windows and cut hair in the hallway. They fix engines in their entryways and turn their apartments into restaurants. A small watch repair is setup in the corner of a nail salon. BiciTaxi’s, jockeying for your ride at the hotel, will wait while you enjoy a two hour leisurely dinner for the chance of a 4 CUC return fair.
Like the mojito with its of fragrant mint, sweet sugar, and strong drink, the Cuban entrepreneurial spirit is a bit of a muddle.