Photographing old models

Wednesday was a day to walk around exploring the city centre and Old Havana. I also shot hundreds of photos, of old buildings, some decaying and others restored, as well as old models – cars and people. Some of the old 1950s classic cars have been beautifully restored, but most are in very rough shape and belch dark smoke. One I saw even had a padlock holding the driver’s door shut, and others had similar improvisations. Despite the inefficiency of 1950s (and late 1940s) American cars, this was definitely a period of classic designs, preserved here in this living car museum.

I also tentatively tried photographing some people. In the old city, there are a number of older people who dress up in costume and pose for tourists for a peso. Some travellers object to this, but for  many of these people they are like professional photo models. We don’t have a problem paying people to model in North America, so I don’t begrudge these people trying to earn a little hard currency. Some of the costumes are pretty kitschy, but sometimes that adds to the appeal. And some of them have very expressive and interesting faces.

In some cases I asked strangers to pose, or they invited me, and there was never any discussion of money. In one case a smiling woman motioned me to come quickly for a photo op, and pointed me behind a large transformer-like object where there was a man urinating. As she laughed, I pretended to do paparazzi-style photos of him (I didn’t really take any). The man laughed too, as did some older people on a park bench. I chatted with them, and in the end the older people let me photograph them, and were happy with a look at my LCD screen.

Another time, I bought a drink at a small tienda that mostly dealt in moneda nacional, the almost  worthless currency, but also handled convertible pesos. I paid in convertibles, but got the change in moneda nacional, but the woman there gave me a reasonably fair exchange – not like some Cubans who try to cheat tourists by fooling them by mixing moneda nacional with convertibles. I chatted with her, and she let me photograph her. She was complaining about the cold, but I told her I actually felt hot. It must have been in the low 20s and humid. She had a vague idea of what cold is like because she had once been to the Czech Republic in winter.

Sometimes people see my camera and call me into a shop or business to see and photograph something. They want a bit of money, but the subjects are often interesting. On Tuesday, I photographed a man in a small shop who had an old cash register made in 1922. Today, I photographed some men working on an old classic late 1940s car in the back of a parking garage. They were fixing one of the seats, hammering metal parts.

In the old town, I explored the many streets with restored and beautiful colonial buildings, and large squares, some with trees. I climbed a long stairway to visit the Camara Obscura, an old-style projection camera that projects images live from around Old Havana. It uses ancient camera technology to gather images with a rotating telescopic lens, which projects them into a large saucer-shaped dish in a darkened room, while a guide explains what she’s showing. You can see people and cars in distant parts of the old city moving in real time, and with absolutely no electronics.

In other squares, there were book stalls selling old books and more recent ones mainly on subjects of the revolution, but with a sprinkling of other Cuba-related themes such as Hemingway. The only ones that really interested me were some books of photos by Korda.

In one square, I was taking photos including some of a Chopin statue on a bench, when suddenly some colourfully dressed characters on stilts appeared, dancing and playing music, along with a couple, who were being celebrated. I snapped a number of photos of the activity, as did others, but never figured exactly what was going on. My guess is that it was a couple of newly weds celebrating a birthday because there was some birthday sounding theme music. They all seemed to be having a great time.

I’ve taken to returning for a nap in my air conditioned room during the hottest part of the afternoon. Today, having not slept very well last night, I fell asleep and didn’t wake until near sunset.

Classic cars

Classic cars

Classic Chevy

Couple in park

Men working on seat of classic car

A spontaneous celebration

Professional tourist model

Much photographed tourist model, Graciela

About Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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