Old Havana is everything it is reputed to be and more. Travelling to the city from the airport on back roads, it felt like I had travelled into an era 50 years on from the apocalypse – with everything in a state of decay and recycling a major part of life. Old Havana, with its faded and crumbling colonial architecture and many ’50s American cars, is more of the same, and the feeling of being somewhere utterly different is reinforced by the suffocating heat, the noise and the slightly intimidating street life.
I spent five days with Ramses Batista – www.ramseshb.com, a professional Cuban photographer. We shot mainly on the streets of the city, but also drove around other parts of Havana and out to Cojimar and Soroa in Pinar del Rio. Ramses was a wonderful tutor and compañero and I was really happy with the shots I brought back with me. We spent a lot of time setting up street shots – something Ramses excels at. One of my favourites is shown here – Ramses told me about the Che mural, which was just around the corner from my hotel, the excellent Saratoga, and we flagged down a suitable vehicle for the shot – which shows the driver walking back to his car. I’ve used a lot of contrast and brought out as much of the structure of the road, building and car as I could. The mono conversion plugin Silver Effex allows the placement of selective control points, which can be used like spot lights, so I lit the wheels and the pillar slightly as as they were a little too dark without a bit of extra lighting. As to what the white substance on the road is, I have no idea, but it all adds to the tone and texture.
I’ll describe one anecdote from the trip that highlights how different Cuba is: Ramses and I went out to Colon cemetery to shoot Angels (entities which are well represented on this site at the angels gallery). As we drove towards the gates on our way out a security guard stopped us and searched the boot. I asked Ramses why this was necessary and he told me that the guard was searching for human bones, which are much prized for use in ceremonies in some of the syncretic religions of Cuba…
My Nikon D600 was reliable but suffers from a sensor that is astonishingly sensitive to moisture and dirt, so I spent a lot of time cleaning up spots from the images whilst editing them. I also took a trip over to my friends at T4 Cameras in Witney for yet another sensor clean. I was in similarly poor shape as I managed to put my back out travelling in the jungle in some rather dilapidated car seats (I felt we had to take a 50s car for the trip) and I picked up a nasty bug from the same locale – but it was most definitely worth it. I want to go back and see the rest of the island as soon as I can.