If ever there was a perfect destination for my favourite kind of photography, portraiture; it is Cuba, at least so far! The Caribbean island is great for all round photography, the cities have so much to offer, not just Havana or Santiago, but smaller towns like Baracoa, Trinidad or Camaguey.
Driving from east to west on a small group guided tour with Intrepid Travel in a mini-bus provided ample great photographic opportunities. Apart from the sites and activity of the cities including the classic cars known as cacharros, the dilapidated buildings with shutters hanging from their hinges and musicians on every street corner there is much to excite the photographer.
The island has a diverse variety of landscapes,the ocean plays a large part of the lives of many Cubans, but there are wetlands, lush rainforest and plantations of sugar, mango, banana and coconut. The roads that wind their way through the countryside and over mountain passes also seem to have plenty happening. All manner of vehicles from horse-drawn carriages, buses, old trucks billowing exhaust fumes, horsemen, bicyclists and of course those glorious cars regardless of their condition pass in each direction.
Pedestrians appear in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town, or sitting at the roadside trying to attract a lift. This is a common way of travelling in fact, not actually hitching but holding out a fistful of notes signifying that they’ll pay for transportation. At stops just outside every township there are usually many travellers making their way in this way. There are also often military or police officers that seem to expect that a lift. A right and not common courtesy.
Occasionally small groups of men can be found sat at the side of the road stoking a small fire, stopping to investigate will often be rewarded with hot, fresh corn on the cob. There are other roadside vendors selling fresh, ripe fruit or stylish woven hats providing some shade from the sun.
Workers laying out mile upon mile of rice on the hot tarmac to dry out while their colleagues rake it over and then eventually sweeping it back up ready for packing and delivery. These were all common sights and a few of the images in this post caught from the moving bus.
People really get me excited however, and Cuba is teeming with characters almost everywhere. Street corners with bici-taxi drivers or ‘entrepreneurs’ selling cigars or more simple items like garlic or chillies. Street vendors or market stall holders, women selling perfect white linen or if browsing the art galleries of Trinidad there is a wealth of interesting faces.
Children playing football, jumping from a high point on a shipwreck in Baracoa harbour, enjoying an ice cream or merely being children beaming at anybody pointing a camera in their direction. It is hard not to smile at their exuberance.
Musicians are plentiful here too, street performers are found everywhere from the Malecón in Havana to the annual carnival in Camaguey. Every bar also seems to have a band playing at sometime or other, with the rhythms of the salsa emanating above the hushed conversation of the swaying patrons. The hypnotic beat can entrance and leads photographers like a latin pied piper to find the source often deep within the back streets of a small township.
Havana especially has a small army of professional models to cater for the tourists, who delight in posing with the most colourful characters on display. Vibrantly dressed flower ladies, energetic and well dressed dancing couples, authentically dressed policeman replete with officious attitude and immaculately dressed larger than life characters most with huge cigars in their mouths compete for the dollar of the visitors. Their poses rehearsed to perfection, ensuring the photographer gets full value for money.
It is the normal working Cubans however that make the best subjects, going about their daily business, there isn’t a need for them to pose or to offer some fake sense of authenticity. Their everyday lives are intrinsically interesting, their faces portray their individuality and character.
Many of them have lived through revolutions, they have witnessed the best and worst of humanity and they have survived. It is unlikely their lives have ever been easy, struggle is a way of life for many in a way few of us can comprehend. Their faces often portray the hardships which they have endured.
There is however usually an underlying feeling of humour often just bubbling beneath the surface. A number of the ‘models’ here broke out into a broad smile immediately after their picture had successfully been captured. On several occasions I was taking pictures of something else only to look around and find that somebody was encouraging me to take their picture. Most without holding out their hand afterwards too!
Travelling through Cuba armed only with a camera was a highlight of my travelling life.