Cuba: Photo Gallery
Most ZEKE articles feature 2-3 photographers, allowing us to show at least two images from each. But there is probably no other subject on SDN that has brought in more quality exhibits than Cuba and we have felt compelled to offer breadth here rather than depth.
Why has Cuba been such a popular subject? It is certainly not because it is easy for norteamericanos to travel there—the embargo makes sure of that. It is beautiful, as these photographs attest. But so is Panama, Costa Rica, and many other places in the Caribbean and Central America that have not produced a fraction of the submissions to SDN as Cuba. I have not been there myself, but I am fascinated by the patina of an aging infrastructure that is the backdrop to everything. But perhaps more than anything, it is the Cuban people who have held on against the relentless pressure of their northern neighbor, and have done so with dignity and grace.
Yes, Cuba has its problems. I am not an apologist for the Castro regime, but somehow this tiny island nation has produced a highly literate population that is vibrant, productive, and both physically and emotionally healthy. The infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than the United States and is among the lowest in the world. Cuba ranks #10 in world literacy (the U.S. is 45) and has avoided the dire poverty, drug abuse, gangs, and violence that many of its Caribbean neighbors are plagued with. All this is a ripe backdrop for a documentary photographer to focus their attention on.
Walker Evans has given us some of the most memorable images of Cuba prior to the revolution in 1959. The revolution itself spurred iconic images of Castro by Raymond Burri and others. And in the intervening 75 years, many photographers have produced extraordinary work including Alex Webb and Ernesto Bazan among the most well-known.
I am thrilled to present here the work of six SDN photographers, each who have documented Cuba in their own unique vision. I only regret that we are unable to show more work of each and I encourage you to visit their full galleries on SDN to see the extent of their extraordinary work.
Open a typical travel guide to Cuba, and you’ll see pictures of grandiose squares, crumbling facades, street dogs sleeping in dusty doorways and alleys draped with dangling electrical wires. Cuba is a country frozen in time, or at least that’s what the guidebooks say. It’s a country where, according to legend, progress stopped in the 1950s, where vintage cars bump along cobblestone streets in Havana and pristine beaches stretch along the coasts.
But since the curtain began to lift between the United States and Cuba after the countries announced a renewed relationship in 2014, that romantic imagery has begun to fade. Guidebooks once described how to sneak into Cuba through Canada and how to skirt fines associated with violating the 1963 Trading with the Enemy Act that barred Americans from spending money there, now they point out shopping malls and souvenir shops. Tourists can catch a Rolling Stones concert, stay in a Starwood hotel, fly direct from Chicago or float down on Carnival Cruises. There’s no denying it: Cuba has changed.
Some say these changes are for the better. In his speech announcing that the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama argued that increased engagement with Americans through commerce, travel and free flow of information would improve the lives of the Cuban people.
“Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous,” Obama said in his December 17, 2014 speech.
But many fear that a sudden rush of American tourists has put a strain on the country and its tiny tourist industry. Christopher P. Baker, a travel writer and Cuba travel expert, believes that Cuba as America imagines it is already beginning to fade.
“The past two years has witnessed a massive surge in foreign visitors to Cuba. First, U.S. travelers traveling primarily on people-to-people group tours,” Baker said. “But also Europeans—especially young adults—flocking to Cuba as never before to experience it ‘before the Americans ruin it.’”
Baker and others who have a long history of traveling to Cuba before the restrictions were lifted worry that tourist towns and historical sites won’t be able to withstand the sudden influx.
“Certain core destinations, such as Trinidad and Vinales, are already beyond the tipping point of sustainability due to the throng of new visitors. In these places, the ‘innocent’ Cuba of fame is already fading into myth,” Baker said.
To understand America’s romanticization of “innocent” Cuba, it’s important to understand the nation’s long and tangled history with the U.S. Cuba became a Spanish colony after Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, and continued as one until the end of the Spanish-American War. In 1898, a defeated Spain signed the rights to its territories, including Guam, Puerto Rico and Cuba, over to the U.S. But by 1902, Cuba gained independence, with the understanding that the U.S. could intervene when it deemed necessary and that it be granted a perpetual lease on its Guantánamo Bay naval base.
Following independence, Cuba flourished with new economic development and investment from the U.S. But the country suffered from political corruption and a succession of tyrannical leaders until January 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew President Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. initially recognized Castro’s new regime, but his communist leanings, nationalization of private land and companies, and heavy taxation of American goods led the Eisenhower Administration to levy trade restrictions on the country. From there, tensions escalated; Cuba warmed its relationship with the Soviet Union and the U.S. cut all diplomatic ties, with President Kennedy making the embargo permanent in 1962.
Cuba suffered. While its economy stalled from the sudden removal of American-made products upon which it relied, the U.S. launched a series of poorly executed missions aimed at toppling the government, from the disastrous Bay of Pigs to several attempts on Castro’s life. In 1962, tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis when U.S. spy planes discovered Soviet missiles being built on Cuban soil.
For the next 20 years, relations simmered and Cubans fled in droves to seek asylum in America. When the Soviet Union crumbled in the 1990s, the Cuban economy began to nosedive, subjecting citizens to frequent food shortages and power outages. But by the time Obama took office in 2008, America’s stance on Cuba had become rapidly outdated and unpopular both at home and abroad. The embargo had failed to change Cuba’s political system and caused needless hardship for the Cuban people. In response, Obama slowly shifted the policy on Cuba: his administration made it easier for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances, and he spent months secretly negotiating to open relations. Finally, in December 2014, Obama announced that the two countries would restore full diplomatic relations. And in March of this year, he became the first American president since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge was in office, to visit Cuba.
The benefit of this increased engagement between the two countries is clear-—American travel to Cuba has increased 54 percent since 2014, American companies are widening their reach into Cuba, and the Cuban government has taken steps to expand internet access for its people. A new middle class of Cubans is emerging, with more ready cash than ever, spurring spending on private enterprise and consumer goods. But what isn’t clear is the long-term effect this will have on Cuban society.
According to Baker, the influx of money and American influence will undoubtedly chip away at the traditional Cuban way of life: “much of this money is being invested in businesses, but much is now being spent on conspicuous consumption items—a first for Cuba—such as iPhones and flashy watches. Values are shifting towards a monetized consumerist way of thinking that is inevitably weakening Cuba’s exemplary community and family-focused system.”
Where is the Revolution Headed?
Others worry that the changes will undo the gains of the revolution by restoring inequality and classes of “haves” and “have-nots.” But according to a report from the Pew Research Center, the Cuban government remains the source of more than 75 percent of the country’s economic activity. The communist party still rules, headed by General Raul Castro, and according to Pew, 49 percent of Americans believe that exposure to U.S. tourists and culture will do little to promote democracy in Cuba. So while Cubans now have better access to American consumer goods, pop culture and celebrity tourists, it is still a communist nation that prioritizes common effort above individual enterprise.
Has Cuba fundamentally changed? It’s far too early to tell. But we know that American attitudes towards Cuba fundamentally have: a Gallup poll from February of this year showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans have a favorable view of Cuba. Seventy-three percent of U.S. citizens approve of the thaw in relations, according to Pew. Americans are learning more about Cuba than ever before, by experiencing it first-hand as tourists or by reading about it from the flood of journalists who have entered the country since the restrictions ended.
As Obama said in his December 2014 speech, this new outlook on Cuba will benefit both countries by promoting a better understanding of the values and beliefs on both sides. “I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people, and promote our values, through engagement. After all, these fifty years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Fall 2016 Vol. 2/No. 2
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Copy Editor: John Rak
Intern: Kelly Kollias
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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Marketing Web Director
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Independent Photographer and Educator
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Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
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Photographer and Educator
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Photo Editor, Curator
ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibited on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by David Verberckt. From The Stateless Rohingya. Children playing in makeshift refugee camp for Rohingya from Myanmar. Shamplapur, Bangladesh, June 2015.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE Magazine.
Caterina Clerici is an independent multimedia journalist based in New York. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she’s currently a freelance photo editor at TIME and the Special Issue Editor at SDN. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, La Stampa, Libération, Die Zeit, among others. You can follow her at @caterinaclerici.
Susan S. Bank
Susan S. Bank lives in Philadelphia, PA and Portsmouth, NH. Largely a self-taught photographer, she studied through Maine Media Workshops with masters Mary Ellen Mark and Graciela Iturbide in Oaxaca, 1997-98, David Alan Harvey, Havana, 1999 and with Constantine Manos, Havana 2000.
Bank’s self-published first monograph Cuba: Campo Adentro, an intimate portrait of daily life of Cuban tobacco farmers and their families, was selected as “One of the Best Photography Books of the Year” 2009 PHotoEspaña and named “Best Books 2009”, photo-eye Books.
Her award winning documentary photography has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, including The Fototeca, Havana. Bank’s work is collected by museums in the United States, Cuba, Spain, and Mexico, most recently The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Piercing the Darkness, a personal reflection of that maddening mythical port city of Havana, is her second monograph, published by Brilliant Press. A selection from Piercing the Darkness was exhibited in “100 Years of The History of Photography of the City of Havana” at the 9th Habana Bienal 2006. Throckmorton Fine Art in NYC recently selected work from the Havana series in a group exhibition, “Under the Cuban Sun”. Piercing the Darkness was selected for the 2016 Lucie Awards as First Place, Non-Professional Monograph. Images from the series are included in a traveling exhibition, “Los Dios” as Latin Fotografia V winners in NYC, LA, Brazil, and Brooklyn Photoville 201
Bank continues to work with her Leica M6 on projects close to home, including the Salisbury Beach series. Website: susansbank.com
Fulvio Bugani is an Italian freelance photographer based in Bologna, with more than 20 years of experience. He actively collaborates with Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. His work has been published on international magazines and websites such as TIME LightBox, LFI–Leica Fotografie International, and Cubadebate.
Among other recognition, in 2015 he was awarded at the World Press Photo, and has received two honorable mentions at MIFA-Moscow International Foto Award, for his work about Indonesian Transgender. In 2016 his reportage about Cuba was selected as one of the 12 finalist at the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
He has several ongoing photographic projects in Cuba, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Georgia. He teaches photography in his private photographic school in Bologna, as well as in seminars an workshops around the world. More info at www.fulviobugani.com
Susi Eggenberger is a freelance documentary photographer based in Arundel, Maine.
She originally worked as an RN for twenty years before making a career change into photography. As in her nursing career, her focus in photography is with children and her emphasis is working with non-profit organizations who address children’s issues including Seeds of Peace, Ronald McDonald House, Map International, and Camp Sunshine. She has won numerous national and international awards for her imagery and her self-generated film project on a transsexual woman living in Southern Maine was nominated for “Best Documentary Film” in the Maine Short Film Festival.
For seven years she has been documenting the journey of a young Iraqi girl who she has been bringing to Maine for surgeries after she was shot in the head by a U.S. sniper.
Isadora Kosofsky is a Los Angeles-based documentary photographer and filmmaker. She received the 2012 Inge Morath Award from the Magnum Foundation for her multi-series documentary about the lives and relationships of the elderly. She was a participant in the 2014 Joop Swart Masterclass of World Press Photo. She is the recipient of a 2015 Flash Forward Magenta Foundation Award and a 2015 Commended Award from the Ian Parry Foundation. Her projects have received distinctions from Women in Photography International, Prix de la Photographie Paris and The New York Photo Festival. Isadora’s work has been featured in The London Sunday Times, Slate, The Washington Post, TIME, Le Monde, American Photo, VICE, NationSwell, Mashable, PDN, The British Journal of Photography, The Huffington Post and The New Yorker Photo Booth, among others. “Vinny and David: Life and Incarceration of a Family” is featured in the Thames and Hudsons’ anthology Family Photography Now and Public Private Portraiture by Mossless.
Margaret Quackenbush is a freelance reporter based in Boston. She graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in January 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Business Journal, The Dorchester Reporter, Eater Boston and other publications in the Boston area.
She was the 2016 coordinator for Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference, and was previously the managing editor of the Boston University News Service and a teaching assistant at BU. Margaret received a BA in English and history from St. Lawrence University in 2010 and previously worked at WGBH, Boston’s PBS station.
Anne Sahler is an internationally published writer, photographer and graphic designer who divides her time between Japan and her homeland of Germany. She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies, History of Art and Religious Studies which fuels her interests in Japan, art and social activism. Her curious nature and never ending need for travel helps lend a clarity of prospective to an evermore complicated world.
David Verberckt, originally from Belgium, is an independent reportage photographer currently living in Budapest, Hungary. He has studied photography at “le 75” in Brussels, and afterwards pursued studies in International Development at Bioforce in France. After exhibiting his first documentary reportages in the early nineties, David has turned to aid agencies and has spent 20 years working worldwide in humanitarian emergency and development with Médecins Sans Frontières and later the EU.
David’s reportages portray peculiarities of an often deprived civil society affected by latent or bygone conflicts. David has been working on several projects. Frozen Conflicts in the Caucasus depicts ordinary people whose lives are in limbo following the conflicts of the nineties. Palestinian Chronicles is a continuation of a series started in the early nineties, focusing on the daily realities of the numerous refugee camps’ population.
Recently, he is working on subjects depicting hard labor and seasonal migration flows in the overpopulated Bengal Bay and documenting statelessness of Bihari and Rohingya. More information at www.davidverberckt.com