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Miami Photo Exhibit Takes Us Through Journey Of Havana, Cuban Neighborhoods

Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste has been capturing life in Cuba for 30 years, on assignment and on his own time. He, along with a group of award-winning photographers from Miami and Washington, D.C., traveled to Cuba in March 2019 on a five-day journey and took moving images of prominent Havana  neighborhoods. 

The photos are a varied collection of bright, colorful time capsules that juxtapose life on the communist island to here in Miami. The images will be on display at the Iris PhotoCollective, 225 NE 59th St. in Little Haiti, as part of the exhibition called “Cuba: Paradise Lost in Nostalgia,” which runs Aug. 24 to Oct. 12.

“When you go to Cuba, nostalgia is everywhere,” said Juste, the lead photographer and curator of the exhibit, on Sundial. The exhibit is a part of a bigger project Juste has been working on called “Havana, Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community,” a book he says will speak to the dynamic of Havana and Haiti. It is sponsored by the Knight Foundation and the Green Family Foundation.

Juste has deep ties to both cultures. He is both Haitian and Cuban. “The pain in Haiti is the pain in Havana and I am trying to connect the pain and see what draws us together,” he said. The book will be out sometime next year.

This excerpt of the interview has been edited lightly for clarity. 

JUSTE: I have this color called "Cuban blue" and if you notice it is in the car, in the reflection, the sky and in the buildings. It is this repetitive calmness in the midst of something very chaotic. We do see improvements (in Cuba). Cubans by nature are entrepreneurs. I think it's one of the factors that helped build Miami because of Cubans, Haitians and other migrants who came to this country as entrepreneurs. They didn't come to get on welfare or to put a load on the system. You see that most evident in Cuba. You may have someone who is a mechanic during the day, but maybe plays an instrument at night at a club. There is a need to produce and I think that in itself is interesting and it was worth investigation.

WLRN: You look at these pictures and they're like stuck in an era. Do Cubans (in Cuba) believe they're stuck there?

I think most Cubans that I've spoken to would say they're making the best of (the situation) in spite of 50-plus years of embargo. Every time I've been to Cuba since the late '80s, it has moved in a certain direction. Now for some people, they may say, "Well, it has kind of lost its charm," but I don't find anything charming about being poor. I don't find anything charming about being persecuted. I don't find it charming when your freedoms are restricted. But what I do find very exciting is the resiliency. I see the same resiliency that I see in Cuba, in Haiti or Mexico or in Brazil. This need to pull out of your current situation.

Credit Carl Juste/ HavanaHaiti / Iris PhotoCollective
Iris PhotoCollective
Students like many in America are glued to their mobile devices during a short break from class in Old Havana.

I wanted to pick one of the photos, of this gentleman who's standing dressed in white. Tell me a little bit about who this guy is.

That picture was shot by Jeffery Allen Salter, who is an extremely talented and gifted photographer and former photojournalist. We're walking down about to go grab some lunch and we came upon this beautiful wall and at the corner of my eye we both spotted this gentleman walking in a Caribbean-Afro-centric-swagger and he's walking towards us. And we had an agreement, first sight first get. So if he sees something first, I got to put down my camera. So he pulls up his camera and then Jeffery said, "Just stay right there." And to me, he embodies the best of the Cuban spirit. Even though you might be in the situation which might, to most people, seem to like you're poor, but you're really rich like hell in spirit, and I think he just caught (the photo).

What is Afro-Cuban-swagger?

Oh man, it has a rhythm and a cadence to it. It's like a movement. It's like left to the right. Left to the right. It's almost like he's dancing with the wind. It was beautiful. I'm telling you. Man, it's like watching a jaguar. A dark jaguar walking with a sense of authority.

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