As Cuba continues to make appearances on the 24-hour news cycle here in the United States, more and more American tourists and photographers are beginning to plan a trip to the island nation. I get emails, texts and Facebook messages constantly, asking me for advice on where to go and what to see. I will cover much of that information in the upcoming “Productions of the World“feature for Resource Magazine. But before I respond to their inquiries with specific locations, sites, and road trip ideas, I make sure to tell them that visiting Cuba isn’t about the dramatic looking buildings and vintage cars, but rather, it’s about the 11 million warm and friendly people that inhabit the island.
Before I left for my month-long adventure, I knew the typical photos that I would be chasing. Classic cars, dilapidated buildings, the waves crashing over the walls on the Malecón. But once I started meeting the people, they quickly became a much bigger part of the Cuban story that I was crafting in my head. I have been to many countries and ingrained myself in many cultures, but I have not met many people as warm, inviting and friendly as Cubans are.
I knew then that I needed to remember to look beyond the colorful surroundings and see the people that were in the center of them. And luckily, the people were interesting photography subjects and were always willing to have their photos taken. It also didn’t hurt that they had the most enchanting eyes I have ever seen. Male or female, young or old, Cubans have vibrant and captivating eyes which help add to the portraits and candid photos that I was taking.
For this trip, I took a number of Tamron lenses, with the intention of using the combination of prime 35mm &45mm f/1.8 for my portraits, but soon found myself using the 24-70 f/2.8 most often. The main reason for this was convenience and speed. In Cuba, life moves slow, but scenes move fast. To capture fleeting moments, I found that using the 24-70 f/2.8 was giving me great results as I was able to quickly adjust my focal length to frame the scene as I wanted but the results came with sharp details and smooth bokeh (background blur), which is important in a number of portrait situations. Having image stabilization didn’t hurt either for the lower light scenes inside of homes or in the late afternoon shadows.
For a month, I traveled by car across the entire country of Cuba with my friend Alain Lázaro Gutiérrez, from the postcard-worthy tobacco fields in Vinales to the swinging bridge over the tropical Rio Miel in the far eastern town of Baracoa. Sure, I photographed plenty of old cars and rugged buildings, but to me, the people were the real gem of Cuba. They made me feel as if I was always home, always welcome, and always a friend. And I am happy to say, the kind-hearted people I met will always have a lifelong friend in me. But just don’t be surprised if I insist on photographing those eyes.
Below is a collection of some of my favorite images of the people I met in Cuba.