When one travels abroad with four amazingly talented photographers, there’s a great deal of pressure to create beautiful images and capture the essence of the destination. This is especially true when your destination is the one-of-a-kind nation of Cuba, and the photographers are Jose Villa, Joel Serrato, Bryce Covey, and Line Dittoe. We decided to take a “guys’ trip” in January of 2013, and on our ten-day adventure I learned a great deal about the lifestyle, the scenery, the people, and how easy it is to take great photos in such a beautifully rich environment.
We began our trip in Havana, by far the most populated and urban city in Cuba. I can honestly say I have never been to a place like Havana, where I could effortlessly explore the streets for ten hours a day, seldom seeing the same scene and never running out of inspiration. The colors, the buildings, the people, and the cars created endless photographic possibilities during our four-day visit. As exciting as it was to know that I was filling rolls of film with images I would be proud of, I was taking even more away from the experience of walking the streets and interacting with the people. As little as they had, and as precarious as their living situations were, I never felt the least bit threatened, even while walking with an armful of expensive camera equipment through crowded streets. I have been to places in the world where people had much more, but left me feeling much less safe. We saw everything from grade-school aged children marching the streets and chanting political phrases, to little-league practice, and the rush of children released from school at the end of the day. As we met and talked to citizens of Cuba, we learned that the general consensus is they are not a communist country. They most closely identify themselves with a socialist government. I can’t say that I walked away understanding exactly what to make of the complex political landscape, but the people seemed reasonably happy and content.
The second leg of our journey took us to the city of Viñales, on a more remote part of the island in tobacco country. Unfortunately, I was posted up in bed with the flu for most of our time in Viñales, while the other guys had the chance to visit a decades-old tobacco farm where they watched an 80 year-old cigar-rolling farmer do what he does best. I also missed out on the donkey rides through the mountains (I’m still kicking myself for missing those experiences!). Things were very spread out in the rural area surrounding Viñales, but it was clear the citizens appreciated and relied on tourism to provide a much-needed contribution to their economy.
For our final destination, we visited the pristine southern coast, where the fresh lobster was sweet and inexpensive, and the Crystal (local beer) flowed like wine. I was no lobster expert when we set out on our excursion, but by the time we headed back to the States I had successfully eaten lobster at least once a day, for ten straight days. Go for the butter and garlic variety, and I can promise that wherever you are on the island, it will not disappoint. We arrived in Trinidad, and the sweeping tropical coastal views immediately had me hooked. Though there was much exploring to do in the cities and along the coast, we took full advantage of the opportunity to relax and tan our hides at the beach. Cuba is known for its gorgeous water and unfettered reefs. We hired a catamaran to give us a lift about a mile out, to what is considered one of the most untouched reefs on the planet, making for unforgettable snorkeling. Note: Do not attempt group photos wearing snorkeling masks. A snorkeling mask can make even the most attractive of men feel quite objectionable.
Since my visit to Cuba, I have taken trips to France, Norway, Haiti, New Zealand, and dozens of other beautiful places across the United States. I can honestly say that as a photographer, Cuba left me every bit as inspired and excited about photography as any of the other amazing places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. I am generally okay with the idea of seeing a place once and calling it good, but the beauty, rich culture and history of Cuba makes it a place that will require a second (and maybe even third) visit.
Erich is a wedding, portrait and editorial film photographer with a love for medium format cameras, natural light and incredible scenery. Using an approach that combines documentary and fine art styles, Erich captures beautiful, honest, and timeless images.