Global Exchange is a membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic, and environmentsl justice around the world.

Photographing Cuba: Fifty years after the Revolution

21st October, 2010 - Posted by Corina Nolet - 2 Comments

In September 2010, Reality Tour participant Harlan Crowder went to Cuba with the Business of Art & Technology in Cuba delegation. Read the story behind two of Harlan’s favorite photographs that he made on the trip.

My personal mission on this trip was to photograph and document Cuban life and society as I experienced it. Naturally I wanted to make some of those iconic Cuban images we’ve all seen — old cars, fading architecture, music and dance traditions. But I also wanted to make some interesting people pictures; to view ordinary people in their daily surroundings is, for me, the best visual representation of a society and culture. This brief essay presents two of the resulting pictures and their accompanying stories.

“The Baseball Player”

The economic situation in Cuba often makes it difficult for people to obtain ordinary items that we all take for granted –  clothing, toiletries, food staples, toys, etc. Global Exchange encouraged us to take small ordinary items as gifts for people we would be visiting in our travels around Cuba. Among the items I brought was a baseball — I know for certain that Cubans love the game and I thought a baseball might be a welcome gift at some point.

I didn’t have to wait long. On our second day in Havana I encountered a group of kids playing baseball in a plaza. Several of the bigger boys had ball gloves, and they had a decent looking baseball bat. But they were playing baseball with an old tennis ball! Perfect — my baseball had found a home.

I watched for awhile and saw that one of the kids was a pretty decent player. I finally approached him and said that he and his pals should be playing with a real baseball. The photograph I wish I could have taken was a picture of his face when I pulled the baseball out of my daypack. But the one I made of him posing with his new ball isn’t bad.

“First Photograph”

Our travels took us to the old colonial town of Trinidad on the southern coast of Cuba. One night we were invited to a block party in a working class part of town. The event was sponsored by the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, and the local block leader welcomed us with a brief and — surprisingly — nonpolitical address. This was followed by a short program of the resident children singing songs, reciting poetry, and one young man demonstrating his considerable gymnastic talents. They then played music over the PA system and our group and the neighbors all danced together and had a grand time.

One member of our group had brought a small, shoe-box-size photo printer. With his printer and digital camera, he sat up an impromptu photo studio in the middle of the street and started making and printing photographs of the children. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the place went nuts; many of the kids had never had their pictures taken before. But the most emotional reaction came from the parents as they were able to see and hold a picture of their kids. I realized at some point that we weren’t just making photographs — we were making family heirlooms.

This perfectly timed picture is typical of the kinds of reactions the photos evoked between the kids and their parents.

For a slide show of more of his Cuba photographs, go to http://bit.ly/cuba25views

For more information about the Cuba delegation’s travels, see the group’s Images of Cuba blog, and Cuba: From Inside and Out gallery site.

Harlan Crowder is a fanatical semi-professional photographer who lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. For more of his images visit his website.

2 Responses to “Photographing Cuba: Fifty years after the Revolution”

Leave a Comment