I adored my photography class junior and senior years of high school. What made the experience so incredible? Perhaps it was my quintessentially cool teacher, Mr. Colombe (insert high school girl crush here). Perhaps it was the hours of darkroom freedom I was granted to experiment with this art form. Regardless of the reasons, it was by-far my favorite class ever. I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up, but my father dissuaded me – citing that I would work long, challenging hours and find myself eternally poor. I listened to his guidance and chose another career path, so we will never know if he was right. I currently do not even have a “fancy” SLR camera. But I realize sometimes I still have “the eye” for capturing a perfect moment in time.
I was at a conference recently talking about exotic travel with an attendee. I scrolled through my photo library in the still-mysterious-to-me “cloud” and stumbled upon my Cuba clicks from a trip back in November 2017. Each image came to life – leaping from the screen, rich with colors and emotions and decades of history vibrating within them. I then realized my photos from this trip, in particular, were some of my favorite “vacation” pictures I have ever taken. Especially coupled with the fact that being a US citizen, I was forbidden to see this country my entire life, until recently.
There is an old saying, “A picture is worth 1000 words”. I am sure it’s more like 10,000 words in Cuba!
Just off of Parque Central (Central Park) in Old Havana you will find several grand old buildings lovingly returned to their original luster. Here, we discovered an incredible collection of 1940’s and 50’s automobiles from the USA, shipped before the embargoes. Cubans refurbish these cars to give tours around Old Havana. A 2-hour spin around town yields more income than an entire month’s salary. Each car posses such incredible color, albeit not original.
I loved exploring the Old Havana district late night to observe the way the old buildings reflected the city lights. Contrary to what one might think, crime in Cuba is minimal and violent crime is nearly non-existent, which is typical in most Communist countries.
The older run-down parts of the city tend to be a bit darker at night – lacking enough streetlights. However the refurbished “touristy” areas are well-lit and brightly painted. As point of reference, I am walking north up San Ignacio street towards Plaza Vieja. The streets have an almost eerie “come to the light” vibe as evidenced by this click showing the line between darkness and light.
In Cuba, one does not need to wonder what is happening behind the façade. Most Cubans do not have air conditioning, so the windows are always open. Walking by you are treated to a plethora of sights and sound and smells.
This deserted street gave me the impression of traveling back in a time machine…or better yet, standing on a movie set. The full moon behind the clouds made photography lighting excellent that night.
A woman feeding stray cats on the city street late night. I was touched by this moment and could not pass without a click.
The security bars add an elegant touch to the way the light streams through the windows. You can almost hear the jazz music and tinkling of drinks within this hotel lobby flowing out – intertwined with the light – into the street.
Music, music everywhere. Cubans love music and you will find bands in bars and restaurants and on street corners. I loved this ensemble at the venerable old Hotel Nacional. I could almost see the “rat pack” hanging out drinking traditional Cuban Mojitos.
You can’t got to Cuba without trying a mojito.
I slipped into the empty ballroom at the Hotel Nacional. This stately symbol of a bygone era enveloped me as I imagined white-gloved ladies in ball gowns and tuxedoed men gliding across the highly polished dance floor. It was breathtaking.
One of my ABSOLUTE favorite band photos ever taken occurred in Cuba. The night we arrived we stumbled upon a restaurant/bar named La Vitrola, in trendy Plaza Vieja. The band was taking a break and I scrambled for my camera as I realized how that moment was beyond postcard-perfect. A couple of the band members were chatting and the guitarist was playing a few chords out in the street next to them. The late night crowd had cleared out after their previous set and the interior paint and decor could not have made the background more visually appealing.
Since Plaza Vieja was a quick neighborhood walk “to the light” from our casa particular (Airbnb apartment), we found ourselves returning again and again to capture its ever-changing mood and lighting throughout the day and night.
I loved the antique oak wood bars – holding drunken secrets of decades past. From Ernest Hemingway’s famous hangout, El Floridita, to the old dilapidated neighborhood bars buzzing with patrons and loud music. Here, the Havana Club Rum Bar was preparing for the next onslaught of tourists.
The wait staff working their a$$es off at this bustling restaurant.
Out in the countryside, a little town called Viñales exhibits a different kind of small-town scenic beauty.
Of course, I did not take this following photo (of me). But I feel it exhibits the rich color and “coolness” of Cuba. It was taken in Parque Almendares – right in the middle of Havana, which encompasses a part of the Almendnares River on both sides, creating a perfect, peaceful, ancient urban park.
The final morning before our flight, I sat on one of our Romeo & Juliet style terraces overlooking the harbor and clicked the morning traffic passing by in perfect formation. The parade of the pink cars did not disappoint.
Cuba – forever captured in time.
6 thoughts on “Cuba’s Rich Backdrop: A Photo Essay”
Thanks Pie. Love you!
Great article, great photos, Kathy!! Enjoyed reading it very much!
Thanks Mike! I hope you are doing well!
Great article, love the photos. Had to the chance to go to Havana once back in 2001, and didn’t make it, so I enjoyed reading the different story lines.
Hey Brian, thanks for checking it out. If you get the chance to return, I do recommend it…even for a quick trip. There is no place like it in the world.