Cuba, through the lens

July 6, 2012

Cuba may be just 90 miles from the United States, but life in the small, Com­mu­nist nation is worlds away from that in its close neighbor. This summer, a group of stu­dents trav­eled there through a Dia­logues of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram focusing on photography.

The 23 stu­dents, led by dig­ital art and pho­tog­raphy lec­turer Andrea Raynor and pho­tog­raphy lec­turer Luis Brens, took classes three days a week while trav­eling the country to doc­u­ment life in his or her own way.

“We weren’t inter­ested in having every­body get off the bus and take the same pic­tures,” Raynor said. “We were like, ‘Go! See you at dinner.’”

Stu­dents had nearly unfet­tered access to a nation that has had almost no Amer­ican influ­ence since the Cold War- era embargo began, a divide that is only now just starting to be bridged.

“So much of Cuban life hap­pens out on the street, be it a soccer game or a music fes­tival or just neigh­bors talking to one another at the end of the day,” Brens said. “There was very little rejec­tion toward our stu­dents, which was great — our stu­dents could walk down the street and pho­to­graph what­ever they wanted.”

Each stu­dent devel­oped a port­folio of photos in Cuba, and we asked three to share the story behind their favorite shots. To see work by every stu­dent who trav­eled to Cuba through the Dia­logue, visit www .neu tocuba .com.

Kade Krichko, 2012 grad­uate, jour­nalism

Cuba is so visu­ally beau­tiful that it’s really hard to focus on what to point a camera at. How­ever, one thing that stuck out for me almost imme­di­ately was the active Cuban lifestyle (I found out much later that the Cuban con­sti­tu­tion, in fact, pro­motes sport as “inte­gral devel­op­ment of cit­i­zens”). Every day after work or school, fields, courts, streets and even empty swim­ming pools sprang to life with pickup games. Because they can be played most any­where and with min­imal equip­ment, soccer and base­ball games were everywhere.

This par­tic­ular photo was taken at one of the crum­bling public ath­letic facil­i­ties right by El Malecon, the sea­wall in Havana. The pickup game was one of six or seven going on at the facility, one that fea­tured two emp­tied swim­ming pools, a crum­bling soccer sta­dium, a torn- up grass field, and a con­verted bas­ket­ball arena in addi­tion to the out­door bas­ket­ball court in this photo. While it seems sad that all these once- grandiose facil­i­ties have fallen into dis­re­pair, the real story to me is that the Cuban people still use every single one of them, even if it might not be for their intended pur­poses. Every space is uti­lized. When I stum­bled upon this game as the sun dipped low and the shadows length­ened, I knew that I wanted people to see what I was seeing. The court, the players, the grafitti, the rubber ball, the muggy heat at the end of a long day, all of it. For me, this photo rep­re­sents a big part of my Cuba expe­ri­ence, one I’ll never forget.

Annika Morgan, sopho­more, busi­ness major

In Cuba, rela­tion­ships are always on dis­play: every­thing from times of tender inti­macy to scathing argu­ments are played out in the public eye. The pri­mary reason for this is the housing crisis in Havana that means living with sev­eral mem­bers of extended family, with no room for pri­vacy, so every­thing must take place else­where. After my first week, cap­turing moments within these romantic rela­tion­ships became the focus of my doc­u­men­tary project. I spent a great deal of time just sit­ting and waiting for these inter­ac­tions to take place. For this shot I was looking out of the window of my hotel room at the bus stop across the street when I spotted this young couple in the midst of a heated dis­cus­sion, full of hand ges­tures and hushed shouting. I had time to com­pose this image with the green lamp­post and the set of stairs, just how I liked it. Just after I got the shot the bus pulled up and they linked hands and ran to catch it.

Rafael Feli­ciano Cumbas, senior, soci­ology and Amer­ican Sign Lan­guage com­bined major

I was walking down a street from an orchid orchard when I saw this man selling mamays. In Havana, I was accus­tomed to seeing people selling fruits in large crowds, but in the little country town of Soroa this fruit seller was alone. Since he gave me per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph him, I got real close to take photos. I noticed the par­tic­ular colors of the wheel­barrow and the con­trast with the mamays — both the tools of his job. I took photos until he has bored looking at the camera and his atten­tion focused else­where. This was the last of the photos I took and the one where he is most comfortable.