A street model in Havana, on the Caribbean island of Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography iain-mallory-300-239_cuban model

Cuba in Black and White; A Portrait

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.

A street model in Havana, on the Caribbean island of Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography iain-mallory-300-239_cuban model

Striking a pose in Havana

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.

Retail therapy in Baracoa, the Cuba in the Caribbean Copyright © Mallory on Travel 2012

Retail therapy Cuban style

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”

Dancing the salsa in Trinidad, on the Caribbean island of Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Dancing in the dark, Trinidad

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.

Cuban men at the old sugar plantation Sugar Mills' Valley near Trinidad on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Cuban men near Sugar Mills Valley plantation, Trinidad

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.

Cuban prankster at the Baracoa bus station on the Caribbean island on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

A rude awakening at Baracoa bus terminus

A classic cacharro or car in Havana the Cuban capital city on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Classic in black and white

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.

A young Cuban man in central Santiago de Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Sitting it out in Santiago de Cuba


Comments 28

  1. Micki

    Love these photos of Cuba! It’s exactly true what you said about Cuba – it’s NOT sanitized for tourists, and your photos really brought me back to our visit to Old Havana. Such a beautiful area and unique area, and well worth a visit!

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      Thank you Micki and totally agree that Cuba is so appealing because it has not been sanitised and every traveller should experience it.

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      Thank you Ron I’m glad you enjoyed the post and very grateful for the inclusion in your post. It is an honour to be mentioned alongside some great bloggers.

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  2. Ryan @Treksplorer

    Good call on showcasing Cuba in B&W, Iain! I was just in Cuba a few months ago and absolutely loved the place (despite spending much of the time breaking my rule of avoiding all-inclusives). I suppose the man in your first picture is somewhat of an institution in Havana; we had a little chat with him as well! Unfortunately, we were only in Havana on a day trip from Varadero and had little chance to really dig into the city. I found everything overly rushed and was constantly slipping behind our group to explore the many interesting back alleys. I can say, from my experiences, that a quick city tour is NOT an ideal way to experience Havana. With absolute certainty, I will be returning to Cuba (next time as an independent traveller, of course) to explore more of the country like you have at a more relaxed pace!

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      Thanks Ryan I have to admit it surprised me that I did, as colour means so much to me. You are right about that guy as I spoke to him ad he was very proud of his National Geographic cover photograph of himself. He told me he is a superstar and who can argue?

      I agree that the city needs much more than a day to explore, I was there for several days and still only really scratched the surface. I can imagine that an all inclusive trip isn’t ideal, my trip was with Intrepid Travel and guided throughout Cuba. It was really good usually staying in the homestays, thoroughly recommended.

  3. Dan @ A Cruising Couple

    Love the choice to go black and white. I’m a huge fan of color as well but black and white always seems to capture more emotion for me. Especially for portraits when you remove the “distraction” that vibrant colors can bring, the subject really stands out. That first portrait says it all for me. Great shots! You’ve inspired me to go try some B&W shots for myself now :-p Thanks for sharing.

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      Thanks Dan I’m glad you enjoyed the post and especially that it provided some inspiration to take some B&W pics of your own. That guy in the first image certainly knows how to strike a pose. Good luck with your photography.

  4. Wes from Central Overland

    I so often find myself thinking that the subject doesn’t demand B&W – as if there is something in particular that I should save those exposures for. But that’s crazy. I should simply have the courage to give it a go more often. Clearly I’ve been missing out. (That first image is a stunner, by the way!) Great perspective on the island and great photos!

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      I hope to see your B&W captures soon, I’m sure you have both the courage and the talent. Thanks for kind comment.

  5. Renuka

    Absolutely magical! I love the first pic – ‘the man with a cigar’ the most. I’m inspired to come up with a similar photo essay! Thanks.

  6. Shuttle Service

    Your blog is looking great with the snapshots of cuba in black and white. Cuba is one of the best place to visit. I really appreciate your blog and well written by you. Snapshots are most important for blogs. In this blog you posted excellent photos. Thanks for sharing such a nice post with us. Black and white photography will give different look than color. You did a great job. Keep it up.

  7. Brad Bernard

    Amazing photo essay, you have described Cuba so vividly in your pictures and words. t sounds like a place lost in time. As an American, I really want to find some way to visit there (reasonably economically)

  8. Colin Burton

    enquiry about purchasing 2 of your photos to reproduce as a large format digital print say 1500mm high for the wall of a tobacconist on the Gold Coast Queensland Australia
    Are they able to be reproduced at an acceptable definition (400 DPI?) for this application?
    Please provide cost and how to purchase



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