Cuba in pictures: a photography retrospective at Taos Artist Collective

Jade Anaya 003

The photographers at Taos Artist Collective

Originally published in Tempo, a Taos News publication

With the upcoming changes in Cuba, photographers Jeremy Landau and Marcus Best decided it was about time to showcase their work of several years, which documents current life in the island.

“We thought it would be interesting to display our images of a place that seemed frozen in time, a place that undoubtedly will be changing quickly,” said Best.

Taos Artist Collective will host a Cuba Photography Retrospective reception on Saturday, June 6th, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. featuring the work of Best and Landau.

“Marcus and I want to showcase a beautiful place through some beautiful photography which we hope people will appreciate,” said Landau. “And to highlight the accessibility of Cuba as the embargo disappear and before US commercialism messes things up.”

The reception will include Cuban food, like chicken and beef empanadas, and, of course, Cuban music.

Landau’s book “¡Cuba, La Isla Bella!” will be available for sale, along with a special edition 2015 Cuba calendar.

First encounters: medicine and curiosity

Landau’s interest in Cuba dates back to 1997, when he traveled to the island to attend the Caribbean AIDS Conference.

“Following that time, I was asked by colleagues to work with a humanitarian project which came to be called AIDS Treatment Access Cuba, supplying donated medicine and doctors relief through Partners in Health,” he said. “It continued for six years until the Bush administration forced us to quit. It was tragic and I fell in love with the place and the people.  Their healthcare system thrives and is one of the best in the world.”

As for Best, he visited Cuba for the first time in 2004.

“I had always been curious to spend time in a country that was so close to the United States but seemed to be worlds apart,” he said. “At the time, I thought it wouldn’t be long before Fidel Castro stepped down and there would be a change of leadership, and I wanted to be in Cuba while Castro was in power.”

Landau was in and out of Cuba for six years.

“I was mostly in Havana, though I traveled extensively throughout the country,” he said.

His pictures of old cars have captured the old funky vibe of the vehicles. No wonder, as he was quite familiar with them—he once drove a blue Chevy, an early 1950’s model, from Havana to Pinar del Rio.

“The best part of the whole was the people,” he said.  “And the architecture.  And the rum.  And the real Cubano coffee!”

Best enjoyed getting to know the people and exploring their country with them.

“That is almost always the case when I travel,” he said.

Best’s images capture souls and expressions, from a proud gallero holding a rooster to a pensive bookseller in Trinidad.

Looking back: challenges and obstacles

Best recalls getting out of the airport when he arrived as the most challenging part of his Cuban experience.

“I spent about an hour in a small storage room with four armed guards while they questioned me about my reasons for visiting Cuba,” he said. “They wanted me to explain exactly how far I could see with each of my camera lenses and why I had black and white film. It was a nervous introduction to say the least.”

“For me, the biggest challenge was overcoming the obstacles the United States government put in our way at the time,” said Landau. “However, we managed to maintain licensed travel for six years.”

Landau wishes he had had more time to be in Cuba and be with his friends there.

“I took hundreds of photographs and this show represents only a small part of that—the best of it,” he said. “I also wish I had photographed more people, they certainly were very open to it. I was just not so into that, back then.”

Still, he managed to get some stunning portraits like one of a small musical band with traditional drums and bongós.

“I also wish I had more time in the far reaches of the island, Guantanamo, Baracoa, and Santiago de Cuba,” he said.

Ballots and baseball

Best was in Cuba during two significant events that left big impressions on him.

“One was the reelection of George W. Bush,” he said. “It seemed like Cubans anticipated the results as if it the ballots were being counted for their own presidential election, and when Bush’s victory was announced, what I heard most from Cubans was: ¡Hay que aguantar cuatro años mas! (We have to put up with it four more years).”

Baseball, la pelota, is Cuba’s national sport—and passion. Best was also there for the end of the baseball world series, when the Boston Red Sox won.

“I’ve never seen such fervent support for a sports team before, and such interest in the game by an entire country,” he said. “I brought a few official Major League baseballs to give as gifts, and the lucky few who received them were beside themselves with gratitude.”

The photographers’ work will be on display through the month of June.

Taos Artist Collective is located at 106 A Paseo del Pueblo Norte

Phone: 575 751 7122