Men at Work
It has been over a month since I've returned from my first trip to Cuba. I still think of the people and the country daily and have been working on editing a photo essay of my experience in the country. As I have been working on the essay, I've also put together a portrait series of Cuban men at work.
Since the 1980s, public sector work has gone down slightly as private enterprise has grown (mostly self-employed). The portraits of the Cuban men demonstrate those employed by the government and also individuals who are working to make their own way. Although my language skills are limited in Spanish, I was able to learn about the work they were doing and bits of information about their lives. This is an opportunity that portraiture always brings for me and it is a reason I continue to focus a portion of my work on it.
Many of these portraits, like the image of Felipé, I didn't plan when the conversation began. Felipé was explaining that the construction on the street was new pipes and that there was a need for more gas and water for the buildings near the sea. After our short conversation I asked to make his portrait and he obliged. I usually seek out portrait subjects and then have the conversation, but this series started very organically and I think that it strengthens this overall series.
It was about 4-5 days in before I realized that I was gravitating towards making portraits of men who are integral to the development of the country. Once I did realize that these portraits were a facet of Cuban life that jumped out to me, I began searching out subjects who would be a unique or representative person for many other Cubans.
Even though I was looking for portrait subjects during the second half of the trip, I often would just stumble upon fantastic subjects by just sitting in interesting locations and waiting. Cecelio was searching for lost metal objects on the beach and Miguel was pausing during his fishing on Malecón. Both of these gentlemen were completely in their own lives, but were so open to sharing a conversation and a moment as I made their portraits.
Portraiture is about connection and an interaction between the subject and the photographer. In Cuba, where my language was limited due to my knowledge of Spanish, I was worried that connecting may be more difficult. I was quickly proven wrong as I made portraits of Cubans during my stay on the island. In addition, the experience in Cuba reminded me of why I love portraits so much and how a portrait is an affirmation for one person and an opportunity to learn for the photographer.