Visiting My Family Again

Since my first visit to Cuba in 1991, I have as often as possible visited a farming family in the valley of Viñales, in the eastern part of the country. The family has become like a second family for me, always welcoming and always happy to see me again. As I am to see them.

After being done teaching this year’s Cuba workshop, which I have already written a couple of posts about, I once again returned to the family. I spent a couple days with them, unfortunately not having time for a longer stay. It was nevertheless a pleasant reunion.

Since the first time I more or less coincidently came across them, the family has transformed notably. Some of the family members have died and new generations have been born over the years. I first became acquainted with the old couple, Miguel and Catalina, who were the head of the family more then 25 years ago. Both are now deceased. Miguel died nine years ago, while Catalina passed away last year.

Today it’s their two sons and their daughter who is taking care of the family’s land. And grandchildren are already securing the next generation of farmers. The three families—the sons and daughter, included their spouses and kids—share the land and live the same simple life the family has done for as long as they can remember.

They don’t have much, but they always want to share whatever they have. Food, coffee, a smoke or just the evening under an open sky talking together. I always leave the family in Viñales feeling richer and more grounded than when I arrived. I am moved by their hospitality and joy of life—despite the hardship making a living of the land.

I have written about my family previously in these posts: Back from Cuba, Where Time Stand Stills, A Family of Farmers and My Second Family.

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Back from Cuba

Cuba is changing rapidly, particularly the capital, Havana. The influx of the increasing amount of tourists visiting the country is no more evident than in the country’s capital. It’s still nowhere near a city like for instance Prague, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, Havana is quite a different city than it was only a few years ago, almost shifting from day to day, with new restaurants, new hotels, new, private accommodations and new activities popping up everywhere.

The same happens in other areas, which are popular with tourists, such as the beautiful valley of Viñales. In a few years particularly the amount of private restaurants, the so-called paladares, and private housing, called casas particulares, have exploded. Today more than 1500 private rooms are available for tourists travelling to the small town of the same name as the valley.

The most evident change, which is seen everywhere, is that tourists from the US are finding their way to Cuba in vaster amounts than ever. After the legal restrictions have been lifted (but still aren’t quite normalized yet), thousands of US visitors have found a new Caribbean destination offering something quite unique.

Despite the influx of tourism I describe here, it doesn’t take much exploring off the beaten tracks before you will find a Cuba still almost untouched by tourism. I am not saying tourism is bad, because it’s definitely had a positive influence on Cuba, but it’s still lovely to find the original culture living vibrantly along the changes. Such as my «my family» of farmers, living in Viñales, only a couple of miles from the town, without any influence from foreign visitors. They live their life as they have done in generations, poor, but content and with strong family ties. I have written about «my family» before in posts such as My Second Family and Where Time Stands Still.

The image above is of one of the family members rolling his own cigar. It was taken last week, when I revisited Cuba and Viñales. It was partly a private trip and partly a preparation for the next photo workshop I will teach in Cuba. I will soon get back with an announcement about the workshop.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the zoom set 10.9 mm, equally to 24 mm for a full frame camera. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Where Time Stands Still

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As much as I wrote that Cuba is changing in my last post, this doesn’t occur for people in the countryside, that is, the majority of Cubans. So it is for the family of farmers I have followed closely over 20 years, the family of Nuñez who lives in the beautiful valley of Viñales. Here life stands still, with only few changes happening over the decades – mostly changes that follow the life cycle, such as people been born and dying.

Paradoxically the town of Viñales itself is maybe one of the areas in Cuba that is changing the most. A few years ago, it was a little, sleepy town, a serene secret that only a few outsiders knew about. Today it’s definitely no longer a secret; every tourist coming to Cuba seems to want to go to Viñales, to experience its irresistible beauty and laid-back atmosphere. Where only one restaurant existed a few years ago, today the main street running through the town is lined up with restaurants, cafes and pubs catering to every taste. When I first visited Viñales there were only three hotels on the outskirt of the town. Today supposedly more than a thousand private rooms run as bed and breakfasts are available for tourist seeking to Viñales.

Nevertheless, tourists stay within the beaten tracks; what the guidebooks recommend or what the tourists have picked up by their fellow peers. Outside of the beaten tracks, not much is felt by their influence. As is the case with «my» family. The Nuñez’ live only 15 minutes drive outside the town, but they have not experienced any of the major changes happening there. Yes, once in a while a tourist stumble by their farm, but mostly they live their down-to-earth life and don’t feel much of the developing boom happening only a few stone throws away.

As always I feel almost unbelievable welcomed by the family. As I have written in posts in the past, they have almost become a second family for myself. Whenever I go to Cuba, I try to visit them. The pictures here are but a few I took when visiting my family this year.

A Family of Farmers

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Last week I wrote about the new photo workshop I am teaching in Cuba in the autumn coming up. As a celebratory, little teaser for the workshop itself I thought I’ll show a handful of pictures from one of my longest running photo projects, which incidentally happens to take place in Cuba.

I travelled to Cuba first time in 1991 – after which I have returned for maybe a month every year over the first ten years or so. After the initial ten years or so I have ventured back to Cuba a little less often, maybe every second or third year. But I still enjoy every time I go to Cuba, it’s simply a marvellous place for a photographer. People are open; they like to play along and are generally very hospital. And then there are the colours of Cuba – vibrant, intense and saturated.

The project, which has been my longest running, is a story about a family of farmers living in the beautiful valley of Viñales. I first met Catarina and Miguel, the lovely old couple who were the heads of the family, in 1996. And since then I have follow the life on the farm – seen new members of the family come into being, and seen them pass away, such as Miguel in 2008. Miguel was very dear to me, always smiling and always welcoming me whenever I visited his farm. You see him in the first picture of this post. Catarina on the other hand is a little shyer, but equally friendly – and makes the best food in the valley. She is still alive, but unfortunately becoming quite feeble. Catarina is seen in the second picture. When I first visited Miguel and Catarina’s farm there was neither electricity nor running water, they were poor, but still happy and always positive. Today it’s their sons who have taken over the little farm. A new generation of farmers is now running the farm, situated beautifully on a brink of a lake overlooking the valley.

I still feel like coming to a second family when I visit them in Viñales – as I wrote in the post My Second Family two years ago. And even though the workshops later this year won’t go to Viñales, I hope to be able to spend some time with the family when I go back. The workshop by the way takes place from October 25th to November 2nd.

My Second Family







I think nothing is as inspiring for your creative development as a personal long term project. By working with one subject over time you get to know your subject in quite a different way and find new ways to express your vision. In addition when working with people – as I mostly do, you develop a relationship over time that is invaluable when it comes to access. People you photograph relax and are able to behave as themselves when they get to know you. It comes down to trust, interaction, understanding and eventually friendship. Part of the deal with a personal long term project is personal. By photographing – as it is in my case – without an editor telling me what he or she wants, by no restricting conditions, by having complete freedom, you are able to work from your heart and let your spirit in the moment bring you to new places which usually is not possible when for instance you are doing an assignment.

Since 1991 I have been visiting Cuba on a regular basis – mostly every year, although more like every second year the last couple of years. I have found my personal long term project in the agricultural area of Viñales in Western Cuba. There I have gotten to know a family who’s farm is overlooking a small lake and the so-called mogotes – limestone rocks – which are very characteristic for Viñales. The family farms the land and live a very simple life. They are poor, but are able to sustain themselves, and in many ways they are richer in spirit than many other people I know. I have seen people at the farm grow up, marry, get children – and die. They have become like a second family to me, and I am always welcome to stay at the farm at any time. I bring my camera and myself, and then just spend time with the family. And every year I bring photos from the previous year. They always cause laughter and enjoyment among the family members. Visiting the family in Viñales has been a great experience for me, both on a personal level as well as photographically. My personal long term project. This year I plan to go back in September – and I really look forward visiting my family again.

The last picture of this series is the first I ever took of any of the family members.

On a different note, I would like to apologise for not having been able to visit your blogs and comment any of your posts the last month or so. It’s just been a very busy time for me with a lot of travelling. All the more I appreciate your patience and willingness to comment my posts. I intend to catch up during the summer time, when work will cease to be as busy as it has been lately.