In theory, it seemed an easy enough idea to execute for Lithuanian aerial photographer, Marius Jovaisa: go to Cuba (in 2010) and photograph choice coastlines, landmarks, farmlands and cities from the sky (as he had done previously, and easily, in Belize, Mexico and Lithuania). What Jovaisa had not banked on was the “thorough and methodical” process that he had to navigate in order to secure the necessary permission from the Cuban authorities for his project to lift off.
Five years later, he has finally released his magnificent coffee table book (and app) entitled Unseen Cuba. What was originally to be simply another feather in his artistic and entrepreneurial cap turned out to be the project of a lifetime. Almost as interesting as the photos he ended up taking, is the story behind his efforts to get the book made.
Jovaisa uses ultra light aircraft to take his photographs. These planes resemble bicycles with wings – not a common aircraft in most countries and certainly rarely seen in Cuba.
For this project he had to have a plane built for him in Australia and shipped to Cuba, a process that became mired in importation issues and delays. Then, he needed to get his pilot licenced in Cuba to fly the thing and the security clearance to take photos of the entire country. As you might imagine, despite Jovaisa’s artistic intent, suspicions as to his ulterior motives prevailed to the point where he was questioned as if he were a foreign spy. Nonetheless despite all of these complications and misunderstandings Jovaisa was able to soldier on and become airborne with his Nikon D3, D3S and D800 E cameras slung around his neck and begin to photograph the land below.
It was all worthwhile. The photographs reveal a country that is lush, vast and incredibly picturesque. Your aerial tour of Cuba begins with stunning images of the Capitolio building in Havana as well as the old harbour including an up close and personal image of the statue of Christ that reigns above Casablanca. From here you can head west to Pinar del Rio and feel as if you are on a National Geographic expedition off to discover the curious mogotes sprouting like gigantic green mushrooms within the fertile Valle de Vinales. Ever wonder what a tobacco plantation looks like from the sky? Wonder no more. Jovaisa takes you there.
Then it is off to explore central Cuba such as a church that rises from the morning mist in the Valle de los Ingenios, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A shot of 500-year old Camaguey reveals Cuba’s lesser known third largest city. Next it is into the spectacular mountain ranges and towns of eastern Cuba including shots of Baracoa, a town that travellers speak of in hushed tones, allowing only a few to share in their secret, as to them, it is the island’s Shangri-La. After you see Joavisa’s photos, you will know why.
Jovaisa has produced a marvellous coffee table book that every Cubaphile will want to proudly display. Mind you, not everyone will want to rush out to spend the $100 to own this beauty but fear not! An app is available (for $16.99) and one can enjoy 140 breathtaking photographs in the comfort of their IPad or Android device. That’s what I did and I am savouring every image!
HARDCOVER: 440 PAGES
PUBLISHER: UNSEEN PICTURES; 1ST EDITION (JANUARY, 2015) order online from Unseen Cuba
Plus the app can be downloaded on Google play or the AppStore ($16.99)
A.J. Twist is a Montreal based travel writer and photographer.