Can pictures of Cuba be a way to bridge peculiar political or cultural gaps? Video producer Jon Anderson weighs in on his two trips to Cuba and photography and videography as forms of storytelling.
Cuba is around 100 miles away from Florida. But for a staggering number of Americans the Caribbean island remains shrouded in secrecy, conjuring up images of the Castros, leftist revolutionary ideals and Cold-War tension. It’s the epitome of “so close, yet so far,” solidified by decades of tension between Cuban and American leaders and their political differences. And though groups of Americans jetted off to see Cuba after the Obama administration’s historic thaw, there’s still an air of mystery. It also doesn’t help that relations remain tepid.
Here at Scopio, we’re always exploring how photos and videos make the world more connected. That’s why we talked to Jon Anderson, a New Yorker and video producer who traveled to Cuba and fell in love with the island nation. Naturally, he ensured that all of his great travel moments were captured in the form of a photo or video. Jon’s portraits of Cuba now function as mementos — a colorful album he can always take a quick glance at or share with friends and family.
Scopio’s Content Editor chatted with Jon about his experience snapping photos in Cuba and the power of visual storytelling.
Scopio: What prompted you to travel to Cuba and photograph it extensively? Is this part of a wider photo series?
Jon Anderson: I desperately needed an adventure, and my friend (seen throughout many of the photos) suggested Cuba. He traveled there in December of 2015 and couldn’t stop talking about how great it was. So he sold me on the idea of Cuba. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to convince me to travel.
I pretty much fell in love with the place instantly. The people, the history, the vibes. It’s one of my favorite spots on Earth. Cuba is such a beautiful and photogenic country — it’s hard not to take hundreds of photos. Almost anywhere you point your camera, you’re bound to snap something interesting.
JA: These photos aren’t part of any project or series, per se. I usually take photos for my own enjoyment so I can look back at them down the road and share with friends. I traveled to Cuba a second time this past December and shot more photos, but I brought a video camera the second time and made a little home movie.
S: Do you share these photos on social media as well? I’m sure you’d expand your audience with these snapshots.
JA: I do! Though I have to admit I’m not the most prolific of posters when it comes to social media, several of these pictures of Cuba have made their way to my Instagram.
S: Many of these photos seem to have a film grain or vintage feel. What camera did you use?
JA: All the digital photos I took in Cuba were with my Samsung Galaxy S7 and processed with Google Photo’s built-in editor. I also shot 10+ rolls of film while I was there. It was great to be unplugged in that sense. There is something to be said about taking a picture and forgetting about it immediately. No reviewing, no re-shoots. I highly recommend doing this, especially while traveling.
S: What do you hope viewers get out of your work?
JA: I really try to capture the atmosphere and vibe of the place with my photos. Hopefully people will look at these pictures and want to visit these locations for themselves. They are much better in person.
JA: My favorite picture is of my friend Iván Lejardi working the crowd while DJing at the Salón Rosado de la Tropical in Havana. This is an outdoor venue built in the ’40s, presumably with big bands and Salsa dancing in mind.
Today, it hosts a wide range of events and concerts. Every Friday, 2,000 Cubans fill this place and rage. Cubans know how to party and know how to dance, and this night was my first introduction to both. The $0.75 mojitos were a nice touch, too.
S: Let’s think beyond pictures of Cuba. How can photos and videos spread ideas or change viewpoints?
JA: There is a reality that photos and videos can capture which makes them visceral in ways that other formats can’t be. It makes it easier to develop an emotional connection with a subject that might otherwise feel abstract.
I can look at a picture of Abraham Lincoln and see him for how he was — all the details in his face, his eyes, which I think is so cool. It humanizes this important historical figure. It’s just not the same when looking at a painting.
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