Beyond the cute tourist zone of Old Havana (Havana Vieja), the rest of the city provides a jarring contrast. The cityscape is three layers of architecture: a melting-sugar-cube world of delightful Art Deco, brutal Soviet functionalism, and current no-frills construction — cinderblock painted in playhouse colors. Exploring it is easy. I found that, unless a door is locked, it’s all public.
Families live in street-level apartments, just steps away from major monuments. When roaming the streets of Havana, you’re treated to intimate peeks into domestic worlds. Tiny family rooms are filled with Grandma-vintage heirloom furniture, as three generations ignore a blaring TV. Just as the cars are in a 1950s time warp, so are the living rooms. It’s often the lighting that catches your eye: backlit, toned, and dark-skinned bodies shiny with sweat and wearing clothes that seem to fit the decrepit walls that corral all that Cuban conviviality.
As a photographer, it’s easy to romanticize poverty. But the daily reality of some of the people I met is miserable. For this reason, I found walking the streets both fun…and troubling.