If you call yourself a photographer, chances are you want to go to Cuba. Cuba has had that allure about it. The colorful american classics, architectures from the colonial era, and its cultre and people largely unchanged due to being a closed country. It’s no coincidence a lot of camera makers send photographers there to advertise their new cameras.
Naturally, I wanted to visit Cuba. I was worried because of all the rumors about it finally opening its closed doors. It should mean better life for its people, but it also meant it will bring changes to its vintage cityscape. I knew I had to document the scene before it’s all gone. That’s why I decided the country as the last destination I visit before I left New York for good, back in 2011.
The change I anticipated took much longer time to happen. But finally, Cuba is opening up. Cruise ships are landing, and they now even have a direct flight from New York. It’s safe to say the country will get a lot more tourists and money that will result in influx of commercialism, mainly from the united states. Cuba as we know, won’t be around for that much longer.
So I figured it’d be a nice time to look back at the photographs I’ve taken some five plus years ago. I’ve taken a few cameras there during the trip, but I’d like to only share pictures I’ve taken in film. I had a Leica M6 in my hands, with a bag full of films. You can’t deny it, there’s that nostalgic aspect to film images when you look at them years from the dates they are taken. I feel they’re perfect to pay homage and my yearning for the country, and the city.
Havana is where we’re going today. I feel so fortunate to have had a chance to be on the streets of this enchanting old city :
Havana streets are really special to me. Not just because it’s where I’ve gotten some of my best works to date, but also because it’s where I’ve really grown as a street photographer. I guess it’s easy to start off as a travel photographer, but then when you want to become a street photographer, it’s much more challenging. Most people get scared of taking pictures of strangers on the streets. They don’t know how the people will react. Like most of you, I also had that fear.
For the first three days in Havana I couldn’t photograph anything good. I was intimidated. But also, it took time for me to adjust to what I now call the rhythm of the city. You see, every city has its own rhythm. The people who live there already know the tunes and they’re moving accordingly. But when an outsider arrives, he doesn’t know the rhythm. He’s dancing tango when the rhythm there is salsa, so to speak. Here in Havana I’ve come to realize this. That a photographer must first learn to flow with the unique rhythm of that city, its people, and it’s only then you can capture that moments, realize what you were missing. I owe that all to the streets. Streets are my teacher, always. But Havana streets, had been one of my most important masters.
I really wish to head back to this marvelous city before it’s all changed. While it still had not, I know I am running out of time. Maybe when I do return to the city one day, it will be nothing like how I saw it in these photos. But then again, that’s inevitable if you’re a street photographer. Buildings are demolished. New stores open. People die. As with time, your photographs start to show what can only be seen in there. In a way it’s a bit sad, but in a way it’s very rewarding. I am honored to have witnessed such beautiful moments in the world where it only happens once and are sure to be wiped away in time. Everything about it could be gone. But a photograph, can still tell a story. So my photographs still tell a story of Cuba that I know. One day it won’t be in existence anymore, but it will still live in my works. I guess that’s why I’m a street photographer.