Seeing Cuba: Photographer Describes Island Country

By Maddy Hayden
Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet photographer Louise Shoemaker who is currently presenting her unique photos and experiences from two trips to Cuba at the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center.

Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M.

Not many Americans can say they have been to Cuba.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed in the 1960s during the Cold War.

U.S. access to the mysterious island nation was virtually cut off in the decades following.

In 2015, that all changed when President Barack Obama officially reestablished relations between the United States and Cuba.

The “Cuban Thaw” has at last allowed Americans to visit the country as tourists.

Portales native and photographer Louise Shoemaker presented photos and experiences from two trips to Cuba — one in 2014 and one just a couple weeks ago — at the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center on Saturday afternoon.

Shoemaker said she noticed differences in the Cuba she visited in 2014 to the one today.

“The tourist trade is definitely changing the face of Cuba in lots and lots of ways,” she said. “It’s walking a fine line between destroying what’s beautiful and unique about Cuba and allowing those beautiful and unique things to be seen.”

For example, two “ugly” skyscraper hotels are being erected in the quaint heart of Havana’s downtown.

However, the increase in tourism is allowing the emergence of small, privately owned businesses.

“It’s provided opportunities for small entrepreneurs,” Shoemaker said.

In 2014, she said the small restaurants that had been allowed to open were limited to three tables, each with four chairs.

“…years ago, the food was miserable,” she said, adding she often kept most of her meals from restaurants to feed to the packs of starving dogs in the street. “This time, the food was extraordinarily good.”

That may come at a price, though, she worried. Her group of 12 sat down to an exquisite feast one night at a restaurant that Shoemaker said could have fed 35 people.
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Just outside the doors of the restaurant, an old man begged for food.

“There’s these contradictions and gut checks about what you’re doing there and what’s the effect of what you’re doing there,” she said.

American visits to Cuba have not been as frequent as some thought, though.

Since November 2015, American Airline, JetBlue Airlines and Silver Airways have cut back up to 25 percent on flights between the two countries and switched to smaller aircraft for the remaining flights.

The Telegraph reported that the tourism industry is straining Cuba’s infrastructure, something Shoemaker said she noticed during her travels there.

With all its troubles, Shoemaker said the people of Cuba are what make the trip worthwhile.

“It’s one of the most wonderful places on Earth,” she said. “The people there are spectacular: open, kind, caring, loving, committed to their country.”

Many of Shoemaker’s photos focus on those people: dancers, farmers, cowboys, children, boxers and street vendors among those featured.

“After all the history we’ve had, you say you’re from America and their faces light up,” she said.

City of Faith on exhibit now
Shoemaker’s presentation complimented the current exhibit on display at the museum, “City of Faith,” a collection of black and white photos by Cuban photographer Harold Ferrer.

“What’s kind of cool about this exhibit is that Harold still lives in Havana,” said museum director Dave Morgan. “In contrast to Louise Shoemaker’s photos, which are all photos from an outsider, all of his are from an insider. He’s basically interpreting his own home.”

The collection of large, black and white photographs depict Ferrer’s take on spirituality in Cuba: largely Catholic, but also influenced by African and native beliefs.

“This is a project that attempts to take us to an unscripted visual universe that then returns to the reality of our culture,” read the exhibit’s notes. “Theater and myth share the same status, exchange roles and alter their original meanings to enter the vast stage of daily life in today’s Cuba.”

Ferrer is the brother of artist Reynier Ferrer, whose abstract paintings were displayed at the museum last year.

“It’s or third February is a row to be hosting a Cuban artist in that gallery,” Morgan said.

“City of Faith (Ciudad de Fe)” will be on display until March 3.

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