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Cuba, through the lens: Dialogue of Civilizations

A group of Northeastern students traveled to Cuba this summer to document life in a nation that is just miles away from the United States, yet worlds apart. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

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.

Photo by Kade Krichko

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.

Photo by Annika Morgan

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.

Photo by Rafael Feli­ciano Cumbas

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.