Capturing Cuba

Photo by Forrest Soper

Members of the American Society of Media Photographers visited SFUAD Sept. 9 to discuss their experiences of Cuba. Photo by Forrest Soper

Reid Callanan has taken 12 trips to Cuba since 2010, working as a photographer to capture the true essence of the land. For more than 50 years, Cubans have been under the strict thumb of its government while earning, at very best, $20 a month. But the Cubans Callanan has encountered have immense pride and passion about their country.

Reid is one of five members of the American Society of Media Photographers that came to Tipton Hall on Sept. 9 to share their experiences of traveling and photographing in Cuba. Along with Callanan, Tony Bonanno, Jennifer Spelman, Sally Thomson and Karen Novotny have become exceptionally familiar with photographing areas and natives of Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Trinidad. Though each of these photographers had different experiences, they had nothing but wonderful things to say about the people and their culture. All said they were welcomed into home after home with open arms and plenty of stories to go around the table. They had never seen such solace coming from people who live in incredibly substandard living conditions.

Karen Novotny was invited into the home of a local priest to photograph his living conditions.

“This is a relatively nice home although it is crumbling in places,” she said. “They just don’t have the materials to repaint the walls, to replaster the walls, to repair the ceiling, to replace the light bulbs you see over the bed.”

The photographers also noted Cubans’ passion for music, family, art and baseball.

“This photo was taken when the team from Havana won the state championship,” Tony Bonanno said. “You could barely move through the streets, there were so many people in the streets celebrating, it’s a tremendous passion in Cuba.” Yet when most are finished celebrating and practicing, they return to a home with no running water.

Cuban artists, however, are part of a small community that prides themselves on the masterpieces they produce. As for artist all over the world, an inconsistent income can come with the vocation. Between the passion and the hope Cubans bring to the table, their abstract artwork has a unique quality. Not only can a sale bring in a good chunk of change compared to their normal $20 a month, it gets an artist’s name out in the world.

Keeping that in mind, Cuba is undergoing some rapid changes. The increases in tourists have these photographers noticing small changes each time they visit. Local areas have better food and service in their restaurants, small boutiques and coffee shops are popping up here and there, and the elevated involvement with locals wanting to be photographed. “They approached me wanting their picture taken,” Jennifer Spelman said.

The ultimate takeaway? “I encourage you to go, sooner than later, and experience this amazing country,” Bonanno said.