Jeff Melnick loves photography! He thinks nothing of hopping on a plane and heading off to some exotic location at the click of a shutter, usually with a brand-spanking-new piece of camera equipment strewn around his neck. So when he perused some photos of Cuba from his favourite camera store’s recent newsletter, he said to himself “this is a place I have to visit and photograph and now!”
Off he and his loyal travel companion (his brother, also an avid photographer) went on a flight and hotel package from Montreal to Havana at a price so cheap that they could hardly believe it ($745 with air, hotel and food for one week).
Unfortunately, they had made a typical first-time Cuba- traveller error: they booked strictly by price rather than reviews or research. Alas the hotel left quite a bit to be desired. Within three days Jeff was trying to get a flight home. ! However, he was also getting great photographs so he was inspired to hang in there and, wow, was he ever glad he did!
Even though Jeff is a hobbyist photographer rather than a professional, he has no problem spending on his cameras. For this trip, Jeff purchased the new Leica SL (all camera aficionados reading this just let out a collective cry of awe). According to Jean Bardaji of Camtec Photo in Montreal, “the Leica SL combines the best of the two worlds of photography systems: the DSLR and mirrorless. While the SL is technically a mirrorless camera, it also offers the speed and the high precision focusing of any DSLR available.” The SL delivers 24-megapixel resolution and, according to Jeff, “ its 24-90 mm lens is just awesome”.
And so are the results!
Jeff and his brother hire a local guide (for 40 CUCs per day) and give him specific instructions to take them off Havana’s beaten path and away from the usual tourist haunts. Here Jeff captures Cubans going about their daily activities such as getting their hair cut, having their shoes shined, and repairing junk in back alleys. Very rarely does he get waved off with a “non” when he asks if he can take a photo of someone.
“One day we hired a car to take us down to Pinar del Rio where the tobacco plantations are. There I came across this young woman in her very humble home. I asked if I could take her picture and she just shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘why not?’ The conditions of the home were very simple but also clean and organized. Candid and chance moments like this provided me with some of my best shots of Cubans at ease in their own surroundings! It was a photographer’s dream.”
Would Jeff return to Cuba to take more photos? “You bet! In a flash!”
Author A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based photographer and travel writer.