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Cuba: Living Under the Shadow
For my entire life Cuba has been a forbidden land. I remember stories my father told me of his adventures to the island nation during the pre-Castro days. He spoke of night clubs, casinos, wild parties, and Cuban rum. I’d been taught about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and America’s sanctions against Cuba (as a response to Castro’s perported assassination of Kennedy). I had met people who emigrated from Cuba who told stories of leaving everything behind as Castro came to power, but I knew nothing about Cuba as an island nation. After Fidel Castro died, Obama lifted travel restrictions for Americans desiring to travel to Cuba. When I decided to go to Cuba I was curious what it would be like to see a place locked in the 1950’s. All the photos I had seen of Cuba were full of 1950’s era American cars lining streets of dilapidated buildings. I really had no idea what I would see or how I would be influenced by what I saw. But I did feel compelled to go before Cuba changed too much.
My visit to Cuba was brief, just four days; mostly in old Havana. I certainly can not claim to know Cuba or even Havana, but Cuba has left its first impression on me and I think it reflects in my photos from the trip. Its taken me a while to discover the theme of my 2000+ images from my first visit to Cuba. I have looked them over many, many times trying to sort out the good from the bad. I was looking for something I could make beautiful. The first day, I spent an hour in one place taking a couple hundred shots of the same scene while the sun set. I knew I would get a great sunset but I had to work for it. I would need several exposures to blend the sky, skyline, and foreground into a colorful and emotional moment in time. After that first day, I spent most of my time in old Havana where there were plenty of dilapidated buildings to photograph but that seemed too cliche. The old buildings didn’t give me a feeling of nostalgia. I kept looking for something else.
Finally, I began to post process my images and that is when I saw the story that I had captured unbeknownst to my conscious efforts. I realize that I was greatly impacted by seeing an entire nation living in abject poverty as a result of a totalitarian regime. There were severe penalties for breaking the law. As a result, there was no evidence of violent crime or drug use. I discovered how scared people were of the government; and that is where my art found its story “living under the shadow”. As a photographer I work to find situations where the light can create a unique image. I found myself taking many high contrast photos. I found myself photographing people in the shadows. For me, the shadow represented the shadow of the totalitarian regime. I was able to capture people keeping a low profile while living a good but frugal life. They had nothing to hide. They would open their doors to the street so people could see in their homes. On occasion, people would see my camera and welcome me into their home to take photos. Many people were open to having their picture taken; few would resist or turn away. I was able to walk amongst the people with a rather invasive camera and nobody would even bat an eye. That allowed me to get close and personal. Even when they did not speak any English, I was able to make eye contact, smile and point to my camera. Their response was generally enthusiastic.
So I am still working on these images but now I know what my story is. It is about people living under the shadow. Hiding in plain site. Disappearing in the foreground.
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