April 24, 2018 In My View

Visiting Cuba Through the Lens

Neil Bardack

Cuba has always captured this country's imagination, especially for those old enough to remember the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When travel restrictions eased over the last few years, I began to search for a route to visit Cuba. Though, to do so legally required traveling with a licensed and thematic group.

This theme for me was a lifelong interest in travel photography.

My route to Cuba appeared when I attended a lecture by Peter Turnley, a retired Newsweek photojournalist who has conducted workshops on street photography in Havana for over 20 years. In the spring of 2015, I found myself wandering through the side streets of Havana with a small group of serious photographers. Our travels led to us visiting clubs, schools, neighborhoods, and other locations not found in a guidebook, nor which tourists would have chanced upon.

Having the ability to speak some Spanish helped facilitate a connection between myself and the subjects of my photography. There was a newfound openness to strangers that is not found in popular tourist locations. Surprisingly, this openness extended to visitors from the United States. Even after generations of Communist rule and what one here may think of the Castro regime, the people of Cuba still admire the United States.

Despite living in buildings deteriorating from of decades of neglect, Cubans make the most of what they have. The homes I was invited into were modest and clean. This was further evidenced by the ubiquitous vintage American cars, which have been kept running in the most ingenious of ways. For instance, a 1950's Pontiac, Buick, or Chevy sedan not seen on the streets of this county for 60 years might have a Toyota engine. It was a walk back into childhood seeing all of the cars from your neighborhood still on the streets in everyday use. Most of the cars are ordinary sedans and much the worse for wear. However, there were also nicely restored vintage convertibles and hardtops that are used as taxis for tourists who are of an age to remember those as the family cars of their youth, now only to be seen in a photo album. For someone who grew up in Southern California messing around with cars, this was a much more remarkable experience than I had anticipated, like visiting the land of the dinosaurs.

Neil Bardack

Neil Bardack has been a practicing lawyer since 1973. He is a partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP, a mid-sized San Francisco law firm, where his practice is primarily in civil trials, appeals, and arbitrations. Photography and travel have always been his side interests, but a recent photography workshop he took in Havana was an eye opener for him. His photographs can be seen in his book Havana Streets 2015.