Fashion in Havana

Cuba might well be a socialist country but the fashion is as vibrant as its architecture, as a new generation of creative fashionistas is born. As social media opens up so do the opportunities. It seems to be a place that everyone wants to be seen, from Rihanna to Beyonce.

Diego and I have an afternoon of street fashion photography with the backdrop that is truly spectacular, Habana Vieja (Old Town). Kit I used was a Canon 5D mark iV, Sigma art lens, 35mm 1.4  with a Canon Speed light 600ex-rt, and occasionally my Canon 85mm 1.4. unless stated.  Below are a couple of outtakes that gives you an idea how unstable my good friend Diego is, but then aren’t all creative people? He supplies the models and then I do the rest when I can get him out of my way.

Street fashion Havana Street fashion Havana

Time for a break as we stop off at Hotel Florida Calle Obisbo, Beatriz takes an opportunity to get behind the camera. Taken on iPhone x

Street fashion Havana

My theme for the shoot is about how the new generation are fighting out of the socialist norm, whilst others just go about their daily work; hoping that oppression (if you can call it that) will one day soon be replaced by opportunity and not austerity.  Capitalism is is visibly on the rise and recently I heard the phrase social capitalism; is that its future? Cuba after the Castros

Below a street cleaner is surprised by some unexpected attention.

Street fashion Havana

As well as the people on this photoshoot there was also opportunity to enjoy the unique Cuban architecture, its hard not to be drawn in by its scale, age and beauty. Not a set of adjectives I would usually put in the same sentence but then Havana is no ordinary city.

 

The streets were full of willing and interesting characters not many shied away especially the man in the cap he was a more than willing to be involved, even before he heard the brief.

In-between sets there was always an opportunity to catch the girls solo. Question is colour or black and white? We can leave that one for another day.

 

I need a Dollar

You will see many people in and around Habana Vieja (old town) ready with their unlit cigars waiting for passing tourists. There are two classes of people. Official self employed ones with a government card, allowing them to work on the streets legally, and the opportunists who sit on the fringes away from the official workers.

So what exactly is their job? Well essentially you are hiring them as a model. You will see women in colourful traditional dresses adorned with flowers, or less common a Dandy, a well dressed man usually strutting around with a cane.

Once eye contact is made the act begins, the more eccentric ones charming you into conversation before any talk of an exchange. You will hear them ask for un peso or un dollar, if you refuse charm quickly turns to anger, as you are ushered away.

Below, an opportunist

One dollar is not much to pay, especially if the picture drew you towards it in the first place. Its not like you are going to take hundreds, five tourist pictures for five dollars sounds like a bargain to me.

Many of them now have celebrity status, the old town in Havana is a small place and with millions of tourists visiting each year that’s a lot of pictures shared globally, come to think of it that’s a lot of opportunity for dollars.

Discovering the past

Where better to organise a photography tour than on a roof-top bar in Havana. The tour consists of just me and Yari a Cuban photography student and English speaking tour guide. We were introduced by a mutual friend and after seeing her passion for photography I decided to take her on a tour of her city, an experience to inspire her further more.

In Cuba good employment opportunities are difficult, but with a growing tourist population and interest in the country increasing all the time, the industry is always on the look out for speakers of foreign languages. Tourist jobs are sought after but only seasonal, leaving 8 months of the year a struggle. Leaving the job for something all year-round is difficult as getting a position back in the tourist industry is not so easy, since supply now outstrips demand. If you work hard enough, are industrious, open to opportunity and have enough financial resources only then do you have an opportunity for something that can provide you with a decent income, but not necessary the career you long for.

After assessing her skills I’m not sure Yari is ready for street photography just yet,  so I start to look for interesting places from the rooftop bar. I see a building quite close to us and point it out to Yari as the place we will go and explore. Without a second to spare we are both packed and on our way. The building is just a few blocks away and but there is plenty of street photography opportunity along the way.

Below some shots taken on the way the building.

  

The building we are heading to looks in a very bad state but nothing I was prepared for. Hurricane Irma had hit Cuba just a few weeks prior and effects of her still visible, a country already struggling to keep its colonial architecture, its heritage standing. The charm that attracts millions of visitors to this wonderful city just crumbling away. We arrived at this imposing corner building corner of San Miguel and Amistad, like many large residential buildings in Havana a former hotel from the pre revolutionary days.

The hotel name still clearly visible in what would have once been the lobby.

Below a illustrated postcard of how the hotel looked, and how it looks now.

  

A skyline view looking towards Vedado, the hotel has been lifted out, the two lines drawing back to where it is, giving you a better idea of how it fits in.

Havana Living Inside Out

Havana is alive with noise, music, colour and the odd smell. People talk loudly across streets and apartments, cars blow out plumes of thick black smoke and clothes hang from any available space.

 

On the buses

Cuban public transport falls into many categories safe, reliable, comfortable, efficient and available are none of these. As a tourist you have access to better transport but choose public transport and you could be in for some ride, literally. Take a Guagua (bus) at most times and it will be 40 degrees and you’ll be hugged from all sides, although if you are a regular user of the tube in London you can probably relate to this.

A bus ride will only cost you one local peso about 4 cent, So for many locals its an economic way to get around. If you are in a hurry though take a Colectivo also known as Almendrones a local taxi that will ride along a set route. You will pay about 10 local pesos 40 cent for a one way journey.

 

The History – Patria o Muerte

Cuba has a long history, but you may be more familiar with the rule of the Castros and the Cuban revolution marking the beginning of its socialistic regime.

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Havana Life

Havana Life Project all started with the Havana Life book back in 2013, now into its second edition.

The third edition is in progress and will be out next year.

Below the book visits some of the people and sites that it features.

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