Back In The USA From Cuba

1 Cuba street

We got off the plane from Cuba earlier this evening and there are so many thoughts running through my head right now.  Cuba is a complicated, beautiful, frustrating, historic place with a people that are both gracious and proud.  This trip was tremendous and I am currently incapable of summarizing this trip.  I suspect that I’ll have more to say in a series of posts about our experiences in Cuba that will emerge over time, but there is so much to say and so much imagery that it will take some time and thought.

The short of it is that I had an amazing opportunity to go on a State Department license to visit Cuba with a phenomenal collection of individuals including David Hobby, James Duncan Davidson, Aaron D’Souza, Dave Kile, Mark Heaps, Matteo Slanina, Brandon Downey, Erik Couse, Parisa Trabriz, Dana Wagner, Bob Lee, Vincent Mo, Dave Cohen and Waldemer Horwart.  All of these people touched me professionally and personally and I look forward to continued investment and cultivation of these relationships.  Thanks everyone.

The photos included in this post are a sampling of my top six photos from this trip that are going to frame later posts that I’ll elaborate on the individual experiences more after I’ve had some time to digest what we’ve experienced individually and collectively.  Honestly, I really struggled with how to organize the photographs from Cuba.  We experienced so much and met so many amazing people, that organizing a discrete set of photos from the trip is a challenge and these six do not even come close to describing what we experienced.

The week screamed by and its taken me days of mental decompressing just to start to make sense and put in context what we experienced.  Duncan had been to Cuba two years before, so he had some additional context, but for most of us, it was wide open and brand new and unlike any other place on the planet.  So, the solution for Jonesblog at least, is to make a sequence of posts that will be smaller vignettes of what we experienced with links to what others may post to give an idea of the collective experience.  This and subsequent posts on Cuba will I hope, provide some insight into the vast divide that exists between the U.S. and Cuba, despite the close geographical proximity.

The image above kind of summarizes the Cuban experience on the street to me.  Amazing architecture and streets that verge on a post-apocalyptic future with elements of the past coursing around them.  There are tens of thousands of 1950’s American cars for instance sharing the roads with people, an increasing number of tourists and pedicabs designed to ferry people around at low cost.  The light that courses through these streets can be absolutely spectacular and on this warm Havana evening, Duncan and I simply sat on some steps and watched the world go by.  I loved watching the light play along the streets as it set.


2 Cuba

The first night that we were in Havana, it rained… and rained hard which made for some spectacular photography opportunities.  Honestly, I had wished that it would have rained every night, but all we got was the first night.  This was one image out of many that I was trying to put together by panning and dragging the shutter.


3 Cuba

I loved this game of dominoes that was being played out in a retirement home in Old Havana.  I had walked in the room and Aaron D’Souza had sat down to play a game of dominoes with three of the residents and was doing a pretty good job holding his own until this gentleman went on a scoring rampage and ultimately, victory.


Cuba 4

This image was a pretty high ISO image (ISO 4000) taken in a photo review by one of the local Cuban photographers that was showing his work.  I loved the colors in this image which is emblematic of so much amazing color in Cuba.  The blues, browns and the *yellow shoes* just put it over the top for me.  Its far more colorful than Andrew Wyeth, but somehow evocative to me of his work… I’m not sure why or how yet, but that was the first imagery that came to mind when shooting this image.


5 Cuba

This image of a boxer was taken on a day we visited a local boxing school.  The students were amazingly intense and focused on their work and training under the leadership of a gentleman in his 60’s that amongst all of the people in that school, I would least like to get into the ring with.  The instructor, even though much older than the students was precise and fierce in his boxing instruction.


6 Cuba

This image of a ballerina in training was perhaps my favorite image of the trip with the caveat that I’ve not gone through all of the photographs yet.  This ballerina was watching others rehearse for a performance in a smallish rehearsal room at the pre-eminent ballet school in Cuba, the Escuela Nacional Cubana de Ballet.  Getting this shot was possible only because of a small ledge outside the rehearsal space where I was shooting through an open window at a mirrored wall with a 70-300 zoom lens so that I was looking at her reflection in the mirror.  No other shooting position I explored would have given this angle where I could see this intimacy of observation and instruction.



39 Replies to “Back In The USA From Cuba”

  1. State Department license to visit Cuba

    If I ever try visit Cuba, I will not seek permission from the US government to do so, as they have no legal authority to prohibit any person from traveling to any country other than the United States.


    1. Well, if it makes you feel any better, there were lots of Americans there that had traveled to Cuba by way of the Bahamas, Mexico and Canada. Essentially ignoring the law. We, on the other hand had complete State Dept. Approval and licensing so that there were no concerns and issues related to future work there or in our jobs.

  2. The ballerina picture was one of my favorite from our whole class’s presentation. Great composition. It doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous.

  3. Wow, you’re a beast! Already getting a blog post up, and of course your images are great. Your summary shot at the top really does a great justice to the feeling of every morning there. Can’t wait to talk more and continue evolving a continuing connection.

    1. I am *totally* looking forward to continuing the dialogue. There were so many excellent images shot on that trip, its kinda hard to process. The talent that we witnessed in everyone’s work was truly inspiring.

  4. Stunning images! A world so close (from Florida at least) but yet so far away. Cuba was a legitimate travel destination when I lived in Germany (a friend of mine went about 20 years ago – said his hotel was crowded with Scandinavians enjoying the cheap alcohol) and I wish I’d gone. Having that stamp in my passport now as a US Resident probably wouldn’t be ideal.

    1. Actually, Cuba did stamp our passports. Since we had official State Dept. permission and travel documents, that was one thing. However, we did see lots of Americans there that had come via Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas… Technically, illegal.

      1. Did you at least get a little bit of a funny look at USCIS on your way back when they saw the stamp? “Oh yeah, I forgot, I’ve got this letter from the Department of State” … or something like that. On the other hand, I’ve had some rather unfriendly officers, so maybe they wouldn’t appreciate that joke. Most of them are nice though, I found.

        1. Everything was cool, so long as we invoked the right words on returning through customs. His eyebrows went up when I said Cuba, but once it was explained, everything was cool. Global Entry helped too…

  5. Great images! It must have been an amazing experience and I look forward to more posts. I was curious as to whether you visited and photographed any cigar factories.

    1. Yessir… We went out into the countryside to a little town in the mountains called Vinãles to a tobacco farm. We were shown how to make cigars and sampled some of the goods. That will appear on a later post along with video.

    1. Thank you Melinda. There are a couple thousand images from this trip to go through, so there will be a few posts after edits have winnowed down the number of images to a more manageable level.

  6. Bryan, Sir, I think your blog is one of my favorites when it comes to Photography. How do you manage to get so close up to the subjects? Just amazing pictures. I must learn your ways. Your pictures make this connection that is just amazing. This trip looks awesome.

    1. Thank you Aadil. It was perhaps, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Cuba is changing so fast, that by the next time I get back, it may not be the same. If we can set up a research trip though to collect DNA, a return trip may come sooner, rather than later.

  7. Nice stuff, Brian. It’s so interesting seeing all of you guys throwing your photos and experiences up on the web. Don’t usually get to see this level a post-mortem from a trip. Kinda goes with the group, I guess.

    BTW, you every hit Balt/DC area, you always have a place to crash here. And we’ll grab Dave K and Erik and sample some rums in search of one that tastes like the real thing.


    p.s. Already ordered:

    1. There will be more to come on the images/story side of things. So far the last few days have been defragging life and time spent just digging out of the pile of work that builds up when you leave town. Work stuff, yard stuff, bills, spending time with family, etc… You know how that goes.

      I’ll totally take you up on the DC invite for crashing and rum seeking. We should wear those shirts in search of the 7 year. :-)

  8. Bryan wonderful photographs. Thanks for sharing these. I am looking forward to me of your images. As DH said please let us know when you get back to DC.

    1. Thanks Jean! Means alot coming from you, who have seen and helped publish some of the most amazing automobile photography ever.

      I don’t know Grant, though from the looks of it, he is also a retina guy, which is very cool. We are passionate about the retina and deeply invested into discovering how things work, how they break down and how to fix them. Perhaps I’ll see Grant in Seattle next week if he is at ARVO.

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