Travel and photography are two passions that go hand in hand, especially when we talk about intrepid photographers who go in search of visual emotions. Undoubtedly, photography is the ideal way to instantly capture those moments, places, people and experiences that we enjoy when we travel through a country, or when we have the opportunity to meet new cultures. Cuba is a very picturesque island, with many visual attractions that appeal to the lens of any professional photographer, but also of any amateur. Whenever we travel, we take those images of the places that have impacted us the most. And if we are talking about a Caribbean island, where the landscape, the sun and the sea are the protagonists, with more reason we use the camera to capture those special moments.
So, the Cuban photographer Juan Manuel Cruz del Cueto, graduated from the Photoreporter course of the International Institute of Journalism of Cuba, along his artistic career he has been documenting those places, landscapes and events that have most visually attracted him all around Cuba. He is a young man with cultural concerns and a very special visual sensibility, since he has been able to capture the essence of a mestizo, multicultural Cuba, always on the move and open for any passerby who wishes to know it in depth. The photographic stock of Juan Manuel illustrates, as a result of his investigative work, a Cuba marked by the seal of religious, gastronomic, musical and social diversity. Through a tour of his photographic series we can know those special places that deserve a visit, those annual events that we cannot miss, that typical Cuban scrumptious food, and those paradise beaches that make us return again and again.
1- Cities outside the traditional tourist route
Juan Manuel, as a Habana urbanite, has been looking for just the opposite of what he already has in his hometown. He has preferred to search for cities and towns beyond the tourist guides, which keep that local virginity that attracts him so much. Towns such as Hershey, located 54 km from Habana, founded by the American Milton Hershey as a model town, by the sugar processing factory from the famous chocolate brand. Today it is a "ghost" town, which offers very peculiar urban landscapes. Here, you can take pictures of their typical houses, the ruins of some buildings, as well as portraits of their inhabitants.
Likewise, the city of Baracoa, at the eastern end of the island, has seduced the photographer for the authenticity of its people and the peculiarity of its food - traditionally ellaborated following culinary customs inherited from the ancestors. Above all, his images speak of one of the spots with the most endemic species, variety of landscapes and types of vegetation in the insular Caribbean. The photographer shows us urban and natural landscapes that enhance the value of the oldest villa in Cuba.
2-Natural landscapes for recreation and relaxation
Fauna and Flora in Cuba.
As a good lover of his homeland, Juan Manuel has been able to highlight those values and peculiarities that the local fauna and flora have to offer. Its macro lens has registered the typical fauna of the island, while his use of the wide angle lens expands the visual register to reflect those spectacular and unspoiled landscapes that Cuba has to offer.
Among the images of slow exposure that Juan Manuel has registered we can enjoy the waterfall of Soroa, called the Rainbow Falls. Soroa is a must-visit town for those who like tranquility, a few kilometers from the Habana capital, and considered a Biosphere Reserve. This town hosts an orchid graden, a special place for those who delight in flora; Besides, it has one of the best spots for bird watching throughout western Cuba.
Viñales Valley In tune with these country landscapes are the mogotes of Viñales, photographed again and again by Juan Manuel in his search for natural beauty. In love with this town, located in the province of Pinar del Río, the photographer has captured different images of the natural wonders of this place: rivers, mogotes, mountains, lakes, vegetation and fauna. His images illustrate the true charm behind tobacco crops, fruit trees and the people who harvest them every day.
3-Beaches of Cuba
And if we talk about Cuba, we implicitly refer to sun and beach. The Greater Antilles has an arsenal of beaches on the north coast that make it one of the favorite destinations for travelers from anywhere. Juan Manuel has also captured the blue of his seas, the transparency of its waters and the fine sand that characterizes them. And among them: Varadero, known worldwide for its warm and pleasant water, as well as the north cays of the island.
Cayo Santa María.
Precisely, in Cayo Santa María the photographer has captured some of the most paradisiacal snapshots of his photographic portfolio. The blue of the sea of the cays has no equal with the rest of the beaches of Cuba, and this is reflected in photographs full of harmony and visual seduction.
4. Rivers in Cuba
However, the rivers we have on the island also deserve a mention, especially since in the eternal Caribbean summer they become an oasis. While going around Cuba, the photographer has captured the beauty of the waters of the Toa River and the Miel River in Baracoa, as well as some western ones, such as the Almendares River in Habana and the San Vicente River in Viñales.
5-Cuba: a musical island
Music floods every street in Cuba, every home, every party; so it is not difficult for a photographer to capture images that illustrate a city that moves to the rhythm of son, salsa, mambo, chachachá and reggaetón. Juan Manuel in his audiovisual work with Cuban musicians, and in his collaboration with Cuban labels, has had the opportunity to document video clips and national and international musical events that have been held on the island, thus, taking portraits of famous singers, as well as photographs that document the creative process. For example, the International Jazz Plaza Festival and the International Festival Drum Festival, held annually in Habana, have been the alibi for Juan Manuel to show Cuban music and its main performers.
6- Dance in Cuba: all about moving your body
The internal rhythm of Cubans has no discussion. Thus, that musicality which has been inherited and transmitted from generation to generation has resulted in great performers in contemporary dance, in popular dances and in Cuban ballet. Juan Manuel has also registered a dancing island, through photographs of people dancing in popular carnivals, in Hamel Alley and in family celebrations. In addition, he has participated in various festivals associated with the world of dance, such as the Habana Ballet Festival, the International Salsa Festival -where he has photographed dance music orchestras-, and the International Festival Fiesta del Tambor , where national and international musicians and drummers participate. He has also photogrpahed the most outstanding dance companies in the country, jazz groups and folk groups.
7-Cuban religion and folklore
The religious theme has been one of the most explored areas by the photographer from an anthropological perspective. He has actively participated in religious processions, local religious events, having recorded active practitioners. Among these events, we find Procesión al Santuario de San Lázaro, held every December 17 in the Iglesia del Rincón, where he has captured overwhelming and dramatic images. On the other hand, he has documented the "Velorio de Pachencho", a three-decade tradition that belongs to the town of Santiago de las Vegas and that consists of a representation of the burial of one of the neighbors, to end up at a party and dance. He also keeps images of the activities carried out in the Hamel Alley and the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Caridad, in Santiago de Cuba.
Food is an intrinsic and defining part of any culture, as through traditional recipes and typical ingredients we can know the features of its culture. Juan Manuel Cruz, a lover of cuisine, has mixed his two passions: culinary and photographic, delivering a series of images where he records both the dishes he cooks and those he has been able to taste in Cuban restaurants. In his trip around the island he has been interested in the local dishes of the towns he has visited and as a result we have images that illustrate the kitchens of our grandmothers, as well as the avant-garde Cuban cuisine that can be enjoyed in places like Vistamar Restaurant, La Guarida or Doña Eutimia. Markets and street vendors have not either escaped the lens of the photographer.
9-Portrait of a Cuban
The Cuban character is the result of a very rich and diverse cultural mix. This can be verified in a simple walk through the streets of Cuba. This physical variety is ideal for an intrepid photographer to take portraits from multiple approaches. In his social inquiry, Juan Manuel has made a huge series of portraits, where he combines children, elderly, workers, peasants, personalities of politics and culture. A tour of these images allows us to take an inside look into the psychology of the Cuban and know more deeply about those features that define us as a culture and society.
10-Cultural events in Cuba
As a "sniper", Cruz del Cueto has witnessed and documented many of the most relevant cultural events that take place on the island. In these cases he has pulled his most journalist side and opted for visual registration. Among the events in which he has taken part are the La Huella de España Festival, during which the Spanish roots present in Cuban culture are shown; the Havana Theater Festival -with a sample of shows in theaters, squares, parks, schools, hospitals- and the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which offers a wide overview of the audiovisual production of the continent.
On this tour of Cuba through the look of Juan Manuel Cruz del Cueto we can notice, not only he is an all-round photographer, but also we can discover those places that have impacted him most on his native island. Although he currently resides in Madrid, he always targets his homeland, although now he watches her from a distance and rethinks her from a new perspective.
Julienne López Hernández
Degree in History of Art
Contributor of CubaUnique