My mother left Havana in 1961, after the family tobacco farm was nationalized. She was a teenager when she arrived in Miami and would never graduate from high school. She died when I was 20. Her parents, who cared for my brother and me after her death, died a few short years later.
Having lost my mother and grandparents, my only tangible relationship to Havana was now my grandmother’s photo albums.
As I prepared to travel to Havana for the first time, I searched her albums and documents to find the places my mother had lived as a child. There was an apartment, where she was an infant, with the circle and wave pattern on the balcony railing. A house, in an upscale neighborhood, where they had room for their growing family. And the finca, owned by my great-grandfather, where my grandfather worked. Family lore was that the finca produced the final tobacco leaf in the H. Upmann Cigars, and once nationalized had become the Center for Tobacco Research.
I departed with high hopes, but I really didn’t know what to expect once in Havana. Would it be possible to find the landmarks of my mother’s youth? What would finding them mean to me? What relationship would I have to these places after losing my mother over 25 years ago?
As a photographer I document the world around me. Photography allows me to explore, experience, process and articulate with images, what I could never express with words. I use the camera to create distance between myself and my subject, all the while sharing the intimacy of my gaze, transcending my own story to create a new experience for the viewer. My work is my vision, but the medium allows it to become a new story and create an alternate meaning for the viewer. The layers of memory, both physical and pictorial, resonate in a larger collective which encompasses how Havana itself exists “outside of concrete space” [Cuban Palimpsests by Jose Quiroga, 2005].
This collection of images document the reality of the Havana I visited, as a photographer, and represent the myth of Havana I grew up with. Both exist in the images, memories I created and memories that were passed down to me. Making connections between the real/myth and singular/collective, I strived to capture this unique aspect of Havana and its relationship to American-born Cubans, who are survivors of an exile that they didn’t directly experience. Returning to a homeland lost long ago, real and myth, what isn’t there is as significant as what has survived.