Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Last week my sister returned from Cuba. Nothing especially significant about that. She is not political or religious or a doctor. She was just a tourist. Everybody is going to Cuba now that the embargo has been relaxed. I am going back leading a photography tour on September 13-20 th 2015.
Because Cuba is a political football my first two excursions there were fraught with all kinds of complications. In 1980 there was a brief loophole and I was employed by a media group to document their fact-finding mission. Ostensibly they were representing a large communications organization and arranged audiences with newspapers, radio and television stations and government officials. The hidden agenda was much more insidious. At the time I was ignorant of their machinations but I was quickly made aware of the real reasons.
The leaders dragged us from office to office, municipal building to meeting room, where they expounded on how the Cuban/Castro regime was failing democracy. I checked in at each destination and after photographing the principals for a time, I snuck out the back door and returned again as they were wrapping up. After a few days people caught on to my antics and confronted me. They accused me of being an anarchist. (I had to look it up.) However I felt it was impossible to photograph Cuba trapped in dark rooms for the whole trip.
For hours I roamed the streets and back alleys of Havana and Cienfuegos. Photographed without hindrance. Met scads of people who surprised me with an absence of animosity towards Americans, their “oppressors”, and the USA. I had expected a sort of “David and Goliath” resentment. It taught me an enormous lesson.
Being so close to Florida, I enjoyed top ten hit music wafting from the tropical, open windows in many shops and workplaces. In bad English people regaled me with local color. They knew more about my country than I did about theirs. There was genuine interest in their neighbors to the North. Despite the language barrier we were able to communicate without hindrance from governments or ideology.
My second trip came after I had organized a tour with a group from Kansas City. After months of planning and negotiating with the Department of the Treasury to obtain permits and visas for everybody we were all set. Then 9/11. The United States shut down. Every one of the participants cancelled. Unfortunately I had made arrangements to have an exhibition of my photographs at a major museum. I had to go.
I trudged for miles through a snowstorm that banned all transportation in Boston. I delivered an impassioned plea to the president of a college to grant me a permit to travel to Cuba. Since I had taught there in the past, I was in Cuba with proper visas two weeks later.
On assignment in Havana, Cuba, I heard music. It was across the street and
far away. I couldn’t track down the source. As I got closer, the echo was
bouncing off the tall buildings. It was amazing. Running back and forth I
eventually got someone’s attention. He led me on a dead run into one of Old
Havana’s famous condemned historical landmarks. I thought it was abandoned.
Upon entering the lobby, I found it totally dark in the middle of the day. No light
at all. My “guide” ran up the stairs with me in close pursuit. The circular
staircase wound round and round. But soon I hit something. Hard. Since it was
so black I had no idea the staircase was full of people. I couldn’t see a thing. I
panicked. But I always carry a small flashlight on my keychain. I was able to
stumble safely the several flights up to the band rehearsing on the top floor.
---Lou Jones, travel+PHOTOGRAPHY: Off the Charts
I have rarely had such a good time traveling and concentrating on my
photography for such an extended period. I came back home, edited, curated, printed, framed and delivered the exhibition in the nick of time. I am hoping this third trip produces equally dramatic adventures once I am there.
Cuba has been caught in a time warp. It is bound to change. Hotels are already in scarce supply due to the number of tourists flooding in. We are witnessing the end of an era. I am going down again to document that momentous evolution.
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