Havana - It's complicated

June 11-15, 2019 my pal Greg and I traveled to Havana, Cuba to explore, experience and engage with the people and place. We wanted a chance to be uncomfortable and disoriented by things that were new and different. Cuba offered both of these things as well as close proximity / short travel time. Our time was spent walking, writing, taking photos, lounging on our 8th floor apartment balcony and chatting with anyone that was willing to engage with us. It was super hot and visually overwhelming - each night we looked at the Havana skyline and tried to process what we’d experienced.

Most mornings and evenings are spent sitting in doorways or steps along the narrow streets.

Most mornings and evenings are spent sitting in doorways or steps along the narrow streets.

Storefronts can be a butcher shop one day, a coffee stand another and a rum distribution spot the next.

Storefronts can be a butcher shop one day, a coffee stand another and a rum distribution spot the next.

Havana’s architecture is very influenced by Soviet brutalist simplicity. The geometry of the structures creates an organizational grid for the prevalent organic decay. We walked through the Bollywood neighborhood after visiting Christopher Columbus cemetery.

Havana’s architecture is very influenced by Soviet brutalist simplicity. The geometry of the structures creates an organizational grid for the prevalent organic decay. We walked through the Bollywood neighborhood after visiting Christopher Columbus cemetery.

Signs of Havana’s former glory everywhere you look.

Signs of Havana’s former glory everywhere you look.

Our 8th floor apartment offered stunning views and a reprieve from the chaos of the streets. Stunning light throughout the day created long shadows and dramatic contrast.

Our 8th floor apartment offered stunning views and a reprieve from the chaos of the streets. Stunning light throughout the day created long shadows and dramatic contrast.

Greg observed that Havana’s elders have ridden Cuba’s roller coaster from prosperity to austerity over the past 70 years.

Greg observed that Havana’s elders have ridden Cuba’s roller coaster from prosperity to austerity over the past 70 years.

I shoot with vintage lenses on my Fuji XT1 which forces me to remain completely engaged in the photographic process. Focus is manual, exposure is finicky, and the outcome is less predictable. However, the soft, hazy glow of images like this can only come from old glass.

I shoot with vintage lenses on my Fuji XT1 which forces me to remain completely engaged in the photographic process. Focus is manual, exposure is finicky, and the outcome is less predictable. However, the soft, hazy glow of images like this can only come from old glass.

“Look into every doorway” became a mantra for us.

“Look into every doorway” became a mantra for us.

Geometry organizes decay.

Geometry organizes decay.

Vibrant colors liven up the ready-made apartment blocks.

Vibrant colors liven up the ready-made apartment blocks.

Early morning light ebbs down Chacón street. The building on the left was occupied by residents on the first three floors. Roosters inhabited the top floor penthouse.

Early morning light ebbs down Chacón street. The building on the left was occupied by residents on the first three floors. Roosters inhabited the top floor penthouse.

I asked this beautifully weathered woman if I could take her photo. She said yes and remained unmoved, proud and stoic, likely having seen many camera-snapping tourists during her many years.

I asked this beautifully weathered woman if I could take her photo. She said yes and remained unmoved, proud and stoic, likely having seen many camera-snapping tourists during her many years.

Stacks and stacks of homes.

Stacks and stacks of homes.

Sculptures, busts, murals and hand painted signs littered the city, promoting political icons and ideologies.

Sculptures, busts, murals and hand painted signs littered the city, promoting political icons and ideologies.

An improvised fruit stand sits outside of a government bread store. These spots were social hang-outs, like old guys sitting at McDonald’s sipping coffee.

An improvised fruit stand sits outside of a government bread store. These spots were social hang-outs, like old guys sitting at McDonald’s sipping coffee.

Signs of reconstruction were everywhere but there was little evidence of progress.

Signs of reconstruction were everywhere but there was little evidence of progress.

“What’s it like living in a place where white guys walk around and take photos of your laundry?”

“What’s it like living in a place where white guys walk around and take photos of your laundry?”

Walking along Malécon on a sweltering hot day. 1959 or 2019?

Walking along Malécon on a sweltering hot day. 1959 or 2019?

Havana’s only construction crane served as a good waypoint for these wandering travelers.

Havana’s only construction crane served as a good waypoint for these wandering travelers.