Cubans live their lives surrounded by bold whispers of color that sweep throughimmaculate spaces. These spaces are often more vast than their size would suggest, with walls, shop windows, worn pathways, doorways and the streets full of stories aboutfamilies, politics, loyalty, pleasure, routines, companionship, humility, resourcefulness, insularity and passion. My friend and fellow photography teacher, Eileen, traveled to Cuba with me in the summer of 2012. We went to Cuba with a small contingent of photographic educators from around the United States. Eileen and I were compelled to return to Cuba in July, 2013, but this time without other photographers.
I hope my images convey the compassion I have for Cuba and the admiration I have for its people. Cubans live life in a seemingly invariable, yet always adapting, environment from which they make the most of lives through their humble, yet steadfast appreciation of one another, of their communities and for the things they have.
Before visiting Cuba, my artwork was primarily autobiographical. My experience in Cubachanged my artistic focus quite a bit. Aesthetically, Cuba sparked an untapped passion for color. Perhaps not surprising considering I had been working with ambrotypes and other antique photographic processes over the last several years. In Cuba, I was drawn to the warm, saturated colors of the beautiful city-spaces and even more so to the passionate faces and gestures of the people.
On my first trip to Cuba, I traveled to Havana, Cienfuegos, Topes de Collantes, and Trinidad. During this trip, I found myself drawn to photographing people in the street, architectural details, and interior spaces. My project proposal was to photograph Cuban families, which seemed unlikely given the short timeframe. However, a member of our group was a Cuban-American who grew up in Cienfuegos. She and her mother left Cuba when she was eight. Her father was held as a political prisoner for most of her childhood. The same day he was able to leave Cuba, years later, her mother died. I was fortunate to be able to document the emotional reunion my travel colleague had with her cousins and other family members who lived in the same home she had grown up in.
From that first visit, there was one image I feel depicts the bittersweet feeling I have when I am in Cuba; a feeling that mirrors the contradictions and dichotomies of the people, its landscape and its history. As I walked past a storefront one afternoon, I noticed a woman sitting on a table next to a telephone. I noticed images of important Cuban historical figures hanging behind the woman and in the foreground I could see reflections of those passing by on the street. These layers seem to parallel the present situation in Cuba, for better or worse. These layers reflect an insular, yet rich culture that carries on an everyday existence with an appreciation for life, framed by history. These complex layers became clear aftertaking time to observe and to interact. This one image was supposed to have become the focus of my second trip.
I wanted to continue to explore reflections as metaphor and as a means to contextualize life in Cuba. In revisiting the reflection theme upon my second trip, I found myself observing the interactions the ever-present children have with one another and their surroundings. The strong sense of resilience and passion these children conveyed diverted my intended focus. I photographed children playing a version of stickball using a plastic bottle cap as the ball, playing street soccer barefoot with a deflated basketball, and floating on discarded Styrofoam packaging along the Malecón waterfront. As I captured these images, I reflected on my children’s’ lives and felt the same jolt—one that makes my heart race— I experience when photographing my own children.
I look forward to returning to Cuba to continue my work. I have been inspired by this beautiful country and its people and know that I have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer me as an artist.