Back in April, I ventured on a trip to Havana, Cuba with the lofty goal of capturing the culture and people there within with my favorite little 35mm film camera. With the recent news that President Trump plans on buckling down on all travel and trade to Cuba, I'm all the more grateful than ever to have made the trip when I did. The Cuban experience is easily the most surreal of any international travel that I have ever experienced.
The natural inclination when most of us think about Cuba, is to think about vintage cars and cigars. My experience in Cuba was so much more than that. Cuba is other-worldly. Cuba is an alternate universe take on the Latin American culture. Cuba is both what is and what could have been. To understand how this place developed into this phantasmagoric destination, we need only look into the recent past of its people. Cuba has a unique political and societal journey over the last 60 years that has left it unmolested, from a certain point of view, but also wildly underdeveloped and forced from another.
As always, I gathered up my trusty Canon AE-1 Program with a generous helping of 35mm rolls of Fuji Pro 400h and I hit the streets. This has been my film camera of choice while traveling for about a year now. It's really compact and easy to use, both of which I count as extremely important when planning on walking streets, hiking, and for just general all day exploring. It also gets tremendous results and at $150 for a high quality used one, you really don't have to worry about the possibility of theft like you would for a newer and bulkier DSLR.
And then of course, it's film. You hear it all the time, but it's useful to say again anyway, you can't beat the visual aesthetic that goes along with film. Especially for a city in Cuba that is stuck in the 1950s like Havana is. It's just perfect. The heavy grain, the colors, all of it. There's an additional layer specific to Cuba as well. Even before Trump's announcement of more stringent travel boundaries, Cuba was very weary of camera equipment. For example, it's a federal offense to use a drone at all. In general, I'm a big fan of a slim camera bag while traveling, but in this case, it was even more true.
What makes Cuba truly unique is the clear and vibrant Latin American culture that has been distorted by the taint of political communist revolution. On one hand, the people are open, friendly, loud, and bright, but it's counterbalanced by a dominant government hand. For example, in order to access the internet, you need to purchase "internet cards", which are only sold by the government. Think of going to the DMV every time you needed to access the internet. We waited in line for an hour to purchase ours. Many of the restaurants are government sponsored as well, which simply means that their menus, quantities, prices, and ingredients are all standard across the board. In fact, the only restaurants who are allowed to deviate from this standard are the ones built in homes. The strong government hand is why we see so many vintage cars. Back in 1960, Cuban officials took possession of US businesses in Cuba, and the US government put a trade embargo on them lasting for nearly 60 years. The cars are just the outward symptom of something evident throughout the entire country: Cuba is just now leaving the 1950s.
Below is a collection of my photos from my trip. What's your favorite walking around setup? Do you plan to travel to Cuba soon? Want to read more about my trip to Cuba or see more of my other travels with my little 35mm film camera? You can check those out here at my personal blog. Comment below!