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Last year I went to Cuba with my wife and my daughter. Before the trip I was overwhelmed with the weight of Cuba and its iconic tropes (the cars, the beautiful people, the cigars); after the trip I became annoyed with the whole thing however, realizing that the photographic essence of Cuba is as fake as the oversaturated, foamy waters landscapes that pollute the passionate photographer visual experience these days.

One little example: you know those american cars that nobody fails to mention each time you talk about Cuba? Turns out most of them they’re empty shells, the original V8 engines gone and replaced by cheap, reliable and easy to service Toyota 4-cylinder diesels. Overlooking this detail is a criminal act in my view. Photographing them like they were real american muscle cars from the 50s and not tourist traps is to betray the honesty of your photographs.

FAKE!

The other thing which really bothers me is that apparently nobody goes to a place just to take pretty pictures and be done with it. No, these days it seems like everybody with a camera in his hand is either a social photographer or a storyteller. Obviously the majority of these people are just pretending to be something they’re not, doing their best imitation of Alex Majoli or other people that do those things (social or storytelling) for real.

What I saw on my first day walking in the center of Habana with my wife and my four-year old daughter was a bunch of photographer sporting big-ass Canons and Nikon casually resting on street corners and actually preying on people, taking their street portraits without even realizing that the cool cuban kid they’ve just shot is probably just another tourist. I remember one day feeling really bad about my photography, or maybe I should say about my passion for photography — like it was something not really worth of my efforts; I noticed that on a particular moment there were at least two of these “storytellers” shooting their black-and-white (they have to be black-and-white, don’t they?) street scenes, surely thinking that in doing so they were capturing the true essence of Cuba.

The day after, I met this old man who seemed like the embodiment of cuban-ness:

wrinkly face, smoking his big cigar, doing small talk with me while I was shooting an old building to his right (for real!).

Obviously I had to take his photo, I thanked him and then he asked me for money. I gave him something, I think, I don’t actually remember but that’s something that I would do. But that bothered me, because in Cuba, you see, people are not beggars, and this guy was just like one of those american cars I mentioned before; a tourist trap.

So I more or less stopped taking pictures in Habana. But the trip continued, we saw other things, went to other places, had a really good time in many casas particulares, and at the end I came back home with some pretty good pictures of Cuba. I’m not doing any social commentary with these photos even if I could come up with some far-fetched little tales for most of them; I’m not doing any storytelling unless you want to hear a boring story of man, woman and their daughter traveling to the other side of the world to have a good time and see some new stuff.

They are just pretty pictures of Cuba.

the photos you have to take

Trope #1: tobacco.
Trope #2: coffee.
Trope #3: dancers.
Trope #4: cars.

the other photos

1/90 sec. at f/4.0, ISO 100, 35 mm (35.0 mm f/1.8, NIKON D600).
Pretty pictures of Cuba: the end.

Other photos are here.