Humanity of the Moment – Powerful Portraits of Cuba

Powerful portraits of Cuba - Tarot Reader in Havana, on the square, with long nails smoking a cigar, as taken by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“Fortune Teller,” by Carol Schiraldi, iPhone 15 Pro Max, Havana, Cuba, 2024

The great photographer Robert Frank talked about, “the humanity of the moment.” Often, portrait photography is like this. We reveal our humanity in a small moment, a subtle gesture, a slight glance. The people of Cuba had such interesting stories to share, I was honored to be a part of them. Powerful portraits of Cuba tell the story of resilient people, a people who have faced struggles over time, yes, but also a people that celebrate life and all it has to offer. Cuba is defined in many ways by the music, the culture, the food, and dance, the boxing, the things the people do and the way they carry on in their day to day lives. Cuba is a story about people, as much as it is about old cars or historic buildings. The people set the stage for the main story to unfold.

Visiting Cuba, especially old Havana, you get to take part in the story of everyday life in Cuba. Yes, there are tourists, it is a big tourist destination, but there are locals too. There are cab drivers and cooks, children playing in the streets, and workers restoring boats near the harbor. Cuba is a symphony of the everyday, performed on a stage like no other, set against a backdrop of political instability and discord. It’s all there in Havana, and it leaves a mark on all of the people who live it.

I thought I would share a few of my portraits from Havana today. These are some of the stories I get to share with you since returning from Havana. The top image is a Tarot card reader who frequents one of the squares in Havana. She reads fortunes and smokes cigars while chatting up the tourists.

A Cuban woman wearing traditional dress from Havana, as photographed by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“Wearing Traditional Dress,” portrait in Havana, Cuba by Carol Schiraldi, 2024, iPhone 15 Pro Max

The next image is a woman wearing traditional dress. This is the traditional dress from Havana, showing the Caribbean colors. Most folks don’t dress this way any longer but you can find a few, mostly ladies, who don the traditional garb and walk down to the square or through one of the local parks. We found this woman in one of the parks and asked to take her photograph. I had photographed folks wearing traditional dress from Mexico before, so I thought it fitting to mix it up and try some Cuban attire while I was in Havana.

Man wearing traditional Cuban "cowboy" attire, including a cowboy hat and cigar, as seen in Havana, Cuba by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World
“With Cigar” portrait in Havana, Cuba, by Carol Schiraldi, 2024, iPhone 15 Pro Max

This is a man with a cigar in Havana. We bumped into him several times in the square and took his photograph. He also posed with me and we had a lot of fun crafting his portrait. He is very friendly and greeted us with a warm welcome whenever we crossed paths down on the square.

Street style portrait of a woman in traditional dress from Havana, Cuba, holding a cigar, as taken by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World
“Street Portrait with bow and cigar,” Havana, Cuba, 2024 by Carol Schiraldi, iPhone 15 Pro Max

Here we had another cigar smoker, this time I chatter her up while she was resting near the side of the church, in the courtyard. She was very friendly and spoke a little bit of English, although I spoke mostly Spanish to her. She was wearing a bow and had long braids and a cowboy hat too. This is a more street style portrait from what I typically do, but I opted for some of this in Havana because the background and the people were so interesting. It pays to work fast and I adopted a more street style to keep in line with this kind of portraiture (although I did some posing too.)

Woman selling sweets in the doorway of a building, Old Havana, Cuba, 2024, as photographed by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“Woman Selling Sweets,” in the doorway of a building in Old Havana, Cuba, iPhone 15 Pro Max by Carol Schiraldi, 2024

This woman was selling sweets in the doorway of a building. We found her as we were walking past and decided to stop and chat with her. She was selling sweets very near my hotel, in Old Havana the more residential part of the city. She was very nice and we got to speak with her for a little bit before photographing her and moving on. The sweets looked good. I gave her a tip but didn’t take any. Eh, maybe next time, right?

Tobacco expert from the pirate bar in Havana, Cuba, showing a box of Cohibas, as photographed by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“Tobacco Expert,” portrait from Pirate Bar, Havana, Cuba, 2024, iPhone 15 Pro Max by Carol Schiraldi

Finally, this image was taken in our pirate bar and it shows the tobacco expert showcasing a box of Cohiba cigars. Cigars are called simply “tobacco” in Havana (I asked) and yes they really do have tobacco experts who help you pick out a smoke. We wound up eating in the pirate bar several times and liked it for the most part, having breakfast there twice and I think drinks once (pina coladas, I believe.) I don’t know much about cigars and don’t smoke but tobacco is a prominent part of the culture in Havana. Many of the locals (both male and female) smoke cigars and it’s no uncommon to find a cigar smoker in your midst. For some reason, cigar smoke does not bother me one bit and I rather liked the culture of the cigar in Cuba, although I could do without ever smelling a cigarette again in my lifetime (I don’t much like cigarettes and all things smoking for the most part, Cuban cigars being the exception here.)

I hope you enjoyed the portraits from Havana I’ve shared with you. It really is an honor to get to share their stories and the people of Havana were so special.

Until next time…

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