Cuba – Character with a smile and a wink! (or wrinkle)

Cuba 3 - Woman Doorway copyWhen I look in the mirror and notice a new line in my face, my heart, unfortunately, does not leap for joy. Those lines remind me that the years of my life are rushing by.

But when I’m photographing people, especially in a faraway place, every face line becomes an artistic road-map that speaks of personal stories and cultural history.

At the very least, those lines provide more “character” to the photographic capture.

It may not be true of every one of the 11.5 million Cubans who inhabit their island, but it seemed to be pretty universal among the people that I met in January – they have time on their hands.

Cuba 3 - Cigar Smoker 01 copyI observed that they took time to converse with one another; they took time to inspect the small piles of tomatoes as they chose the ones which they would purchase; they took time to sit with children and elders on their doorsteps in the evening; and they took time to pose for me and the other photographers with whom I traveled. Time — they demonstrated that they had plenty of it and wanted to share the joy and the essence of it with others.

Most accessible for portrait photography and outwardly jovial were the older men in their tattered-edged brim hats seemingly held up by long face lines. They often were smoking cigars or just holding them in their mouths so they could have them for a longer period of time as they modeled for those passing by. Their smiles and winks didn’t reveal so much about their past history as of their present state of being.

Cuba 3 - Tobacco Farmer copyThe revolution of 1959 gave peasants and workers’ children the opportunity through education to become writers and artists with a broad range of knowledge. Because the whole population was now reading, the people were gaining new connections to their own culture.  But the direction and restrictions that came with Cuba’s later dependence on Russia seemed to lead again to some cultural repression.

In the 1980’s Cuba lost its financial help from the USSR and plummeted into poverty. This continues to be a challenge for Cuba. Without losing heart and the revolutionary spirit, Cuba seems to be reclaiming its unique ability to meld the arts and culture in a way that may be more profound than it has ever been.

Cuba 3 - Man Hat 07 copyCubans seem always ready to find reasons to smile and take the time to enjoy what is at hand, including the tourist industry which may support the next wave of financial redevelopment and the repair of the infrastructure.

Because you can’t read everything in a person’s face lines, I have been enjoying “The Cuban Reader,” which is chock-full of diverse points of view. It offers an impressive overview of Cuban experiences both past and present. Most of the 2 to 8 page articles are by Cubans, but the book also contains viewpoints of some within the U.S State Department and even of exiled persons. In Cuban style the book includes poetry, imagery/photos, the lyrics of music, memoirs of health care workers and revolutionaries, historical chronologies and luscious literary selections. See

You can’t read everything in a person’s face lines, or can you?

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