I have been traveling and photographing in Cuba since 1996 when Cuba was about midway through "The Special Period". This was an extended period of economic crisis that began in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union which at the time supported the economy of Cuba. The economic depression of the Special Period was at its most severe in the early to mid-1990s before slightly declining in severity towards the end of the decade. This period radically transformed Cuban society and the economy affecting industry, health and diet countrywide. People were forced to live without many goods they had become used to.
The heart and soul of Cuba are representative by the people who live in and around the city of Havana. These images were taken during 2004 and 2005 in Havana, Cuba as Cuba was emerging from this "Special Period". Wherever you go or look you will see the life blood of Havana...her people. The neighborhoods are lively and active…children are playful and happy… the elderly are loved and cared for by all. Everywhere I walked, I saw and felt the hardship the Cuban people experienced. At the same time I felt the beauty, the passion and a calm sense of confidence that everything will be ok. Because of their perseverance and Orgullo (Cuban Pride), a sense of dignity and hope remains within the Cuban people in spite of their uncertain future. One of the most important sources of this Orgullo is from the writings and poems of Jose Marti, the hero of all Cubans. He was a Cuban poet and freedom fighter who believed in Cuba Libre...a free Cuba... for all. The idea of a free Cuba from foreign control started before the Spanish American War in the late 1800's through today. As a result of Jose Marti's writings, influence and sacrifice, Cuba Libre and Cuban Pride is felt today by all Cubans and binds them together to endure the difficulties and joy they experience day to day during these uncertain times of change.
Today, things are definitely changing... but for the good? There is more hard cash (in the form of the CUC, the equivalent in value to the US dollar) available today and more things to buy with it rather than the Cuban Peso...which does not buy much of anything. Most Cubans earn about 200-300 pesos a month. The separation of those who "have" and those who "have not" is more evident today more than ever. But that's another story and everyone will have to wait and see the next chapter as it is lived. This is a photographic journey through the back streets and barrios of Havana...where tourists seldom go. These are memories from the heart.
These galleries are a re-edit of a previous version. This current edit best reflects my heart felt memories that developed since my last visit in 2005. "Along the way" was photographed as digital black and white..." Around the Corner" and "Portraits" were photographed with bright saturated colors… not because this is a story of poverty in a colorful third world country or the results of a snap shot approach, but to use color as a beautiful emotional metaphor to complement the narrative of each image. As I was photographing through the streets of Havana, eye contact and showing more of the immediate environment in each image was a very important part of my process of connecting with the people and to what I saw and felt with my heart.
Havana, Cuba Photographs: Havana, Cuba, James English Photographer: Memories from the heart: Take a photographic journey through Havana, Cuba