Anybody that visits this site regularly will be aware of two of my greatest passions; portraiture and colour. Therefore a whole post from Cuba a favourite destination in black and white may come as a shock.
It is vital that we expand our horizons, attempting things outside our comfort zone. Therefore this post appearing in black and white, a medium which is unfamiliar territory may seem slightly self-indulgent but hopefully it will also be pleasing.
Cuba is a special destination, especially as a photographer, there always seems to be something happening in this alien culture. Despite the obvious signs of poverty, it is still a vibrant destination, full of colour and rhythm, and despite their hardships the people know how to enjoy themselves.
Searching through the many images I have for an entirely different post it became clear that many would look equally effective in the stark reality of black and white. The street scenes of Cuban culture seem to lend themselves to the medium, it is perfect for portraying the character of these streets and the characters that frequent them.
“They provide the pulse of the townships”
Cuba is not sanitised for tourists, the streets are not pristine and the culture has not been diluted. Men hang around on street corners or park benches chatting or playing chess. Women buy their shopping from small roadside counters carrying, live chickens home, grasped tightly in small but work roughened hands, the birds hanging by their feet.
Trussed up livestock is sold directly on the street by farmers while musicians tap out a continual rhythm in small bars or the streets themselves. They are the pulse of the townships and the everywhere seems to sway to a constant salsa beat.
There are wetlands, deep chasms, dense forests, large plantations, unsurprisingly beautiful beaches and towns or cities. Havana is an amazing city, the old town is filled with half derelict buildings and the patrolling classic cars for which the country is famous. The smaller towns are equally interesting, in fact many more so. Exploring the back streets, sometimes requires negotiating poorly maintained roadways but there is often a surprise around almost every corner.
“chickens or worse rummaging through the putrid waste”
Exploring Cuba involves all the senses and it is not always a pleasant experience. Hearing salsa music drifting from a small dwelling or the provocative aromas of spices carried on the breeze are very welcome but sometimes the stench emanating from the backstreets is pungent. Bins overflowing with rotting fish or vegetables and chickens or worse rummaging through the putrid waste will likely leave an overwhelmingly powerful impression.
This is the attraction however, it is the raw side of tourism. It is devoid of the pretty souvenir shops, poolside loungers, chic restaurants or spotless beaches furnished with umbrellas and swarming with sun lovers.
There are excellent restaurants, stylish bars or coffee shops available especially in Havana. The attractive churches, town parks and small squares are tourist hotspots but are surrounded by run down buildings, discoloured homes and with the homeless plainly living on the streets. It is the option to choose which part of the culture we immerse ourselves in that appeals, it is a true travellers destination will not suit all.
This raw tourism is ideal for black and white photography, not merely suitable but in some cases enhanced by the format. It is great also for storytelling, the images appearing almost reportage in style.
Cuba does seem to suit appearing in black and white, with the classic cacharros (cars) and run down towns which seem to belong to a bygone era.
Those used to only seeing full colour here maybe disappointed to see these desaturated images. However if they look a little more carefully they will hopefully see the shades and contrast which can improve a scene and enjoy them even in 50 shades of grey.