Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City by Robert A. McCabeWeekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City by Robert A. McCabe

Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden City

byRobert A. McCabe

Paperback | January 1, 2007

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Both Cuba and the United States have strict rules governing photographic activity in Cuba. The U.S. carefully delineates what kinds of photographic undertakings are forbidden, while Cuba has, in the past, imprisoned photographers for giving a "distorted image of Cuban reality.” Nevertheless, photographer Robert A. McCabe managed to satisfy the many regulations, and spent four eventful days in Havana, taking pictures of a people rarely seen by the rest of the world.

Weekend in Havanacelebrates Havana’s citizens in a compilation of moving and thought-provoking photographs, 97 in total and all in full color. From images of buildings which combine classical influences with splashes of vibrant color to intimate portraits of the people, the book’s presentation of Havana is fresh and realistic. The reader will meet a range of closely observed personalities, such as a policeman patrolling in a shabby police car, an expression of boredom and frustration flitting across his face; women young and old labeling bottles of rum in a factory; and children in both the red school uniforms of the Communist regime and in everyday American clothing. Introductions by Robert A. McCabe and Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, who has published widely on the history of photography, cover such topics as the difficulties facing photographers in Cuba, the differences between popular conceptions of Cuba and its reality, and the poverty, politics, and flux between old and new which mark Havana today.Weekend in Havanais a trilingual edition featuring English, Spanish, and Greek, making the book uniquely accessible.
Robert A. McCabewas born in Chicago in 1934. His books include Metamorphosis and Greece: Images of an Enchanted Land 1954-1965. His photographs have been exhibited in the U.S. and Greece, and have appeared in numerous publications. He is currently working on photographic books about the Antarctic, Greece, and France.
Title:Weekend in Havana: An American Photographer in the Forbidden CityFormat:PaperbackDimensions:144 pages, 10.44 × 9.63 × 0.68 inPublished:January 1, 2007Publisher:Abbeville Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0789209276

ISBN - 13:9780789209276

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Read from the Book

WEEKEND IN HAVANAIt was actually a long weekend, almost four days in fact. But Vasso (this book’s talented designer) didn’t think the title Long Weekend in Havana sounded very good: a little too vague and not crisp enough. But either way we wanted to communicate the fact that this was a very short trip, yet full of vivid impressions.Our visit to Havana, in March 1998, was both unplanned and unanticipated. We had flown to the Caymans to visit a friend and then to cruise local waters with another friend on his boat. So unexpected was the Havana excursion that I had not brought a camera with me. The photos in this book were taken with our daughter’s Nikon and its unusual Micro Nikkor 60 mm f/2.8 Macros lens which she uses in her work as an archaeologist.I had long assumed that Cuba was strictly off limits for Americans, and as a practical matter it was and still is effectively off limits: Americans are free to visit Cuba (with some tedious logistical conditions) but they can’t spend any money without a license issued by the Office of Foreign Asseys Control, part of the Treasury Department.Licenses are issued for a variety of scholarly, journalistic, humanitarian, and family visits, but evidently not for photographers unless they wish to photograph a very specific event or activity–at least that’s the way I read the 84-page Guidelinesgive this example of a proposed undertaking the would NOT be licensable:“A professional photographer wishes to take photographs for the purpose of publishing a pictorial book about Cuba. His itinerary consists of travel to obtain first impressions and find interesting faces and scenery. No written narrative will supplement the photographs.” ‘NOT LICENSABLE.’From the Cuban side there appears an even stronger distaste for photography, as this example from the U.S. State Department website makes clear: “Omar Rodriguez Saludes, photographer. Sentenced to 27 years in prison for photographing ‘places that, because of the state they were in, gave a distorted image of Cuban reality and he sent them to be published in the foreign, mainly counterrevolutionary, press.’ Sentence 8/2003, Tribunal Provincial Popular, Havana, April 5, 2003.”These positions are certainly on the surface a strong tribute to the power of photographic images, yet they also raise the interesting question as to why both the U.S. and Cuba came to the same conclusion about photography, coming from two distinctly different positions. Photography can depict ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ but it can also mislead through a selective vision or even the doctoring of images. Unfortunately there are no photographs in this book of the interiors of prisons, or of any of the photographers and journalists and dissidents who inhabit them. But there are no photographs of Cuba’s magnificent beaches either. Our focus was on the people of Havana and their daily pursuits.In the Caymans, our friend and a crew member of the boat had explored the possibilities of going to Cuba with both Cuban and U.S. authorities. We learned from the U.S. side that we could go as long as we spent no money–and that meant absolutely no money. The Cubans said we could come as long as we moored at the Hemingway Marina, but our captain fortunately held out successfully for a pier in Old Havana. The trip north from Grand Cayman was smooth and uneventful. The vessel was sturdy and secure. At the pier in Old Havana, the vessel provided more than adequate room and board, and great convenience for our walking excursions on shore.The pier and the boat were heavily guarded. When we left the area we had to leave our passports with the guards. We could not help but think of the contrast between ourselves – free to get on the boat and leave at any time – and all of the citizens of Cuba, who would be subject to imprisonment were they caught attempting to leave the country.During the trip north we tried for hours to contact the Greek Embassy in Havana by telephone. Greek Independence Day was upon us and we wanted to invite Embassy officials to have a celebratory dinner with our group of Greeks and friends of Greece. We could not get through to anyone. What followed will confirm what some Europeans may have long thought: strange things can happen in the western hemisphere. Someone had the number of the Turkish Embassy and a name. So we called and invited the Turkish official to celebrate Greek Independence Day with us. He came and displayed traits of diplomacy and good sportsmanship that are rare in the world today.In Havana we were free to go where we wanted and see and photograph whatever we wanted, and we took advantage of that to cover a lot of ground. No one followed us, and no one stopped us from taking photographs.The ordinary people we met in the streets of Havana displayed warm feelings toward Americas. At first we were reluctant to disclose our nationality. Three in our group were Greek, and we thought of using that as a cover. Yet we quickly learned that every Cuban had a relative in the United States, and many clearly wanted to leave and join them. It reminded me of Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, when a high percentage of people we met in the islands and in rural areas had relatives in the U.S.There was something very special for me in Havana, and very puzzling: O’Reilly Street. Anyone who knows the traditional genealogy of the McCabes knows that they came to Ireland from the western islands of Scotland to fight for the O’Reillys, who were the rulers of County Cavan. To this day, the O’Reillys and the McCabes are concentrated in Cavan. It turns out that the Havana O’Reilly was one Alexander, himself a mercenary for the Austrians and Spanish, and aptly sharing the name of the Macedonian warrior.One of the sad facts of Cuba has been the impoverishment of an intelligent, diligent, and serious people. Deprivation was evident everywhere, from the rationing of food staples, to the duplexing of grand old buildings to increase living quarters, to the stark absence of many basic items. Many of the bravest, and many of the most able, have left Cuba, and have effected a dazzling transformation of southern Florida’s economy and culture. Some have risen to high positions in business and government. But a material percentage of those who have tried to flee have perished on the high seas. Others have ended up in prison, or recently, simply shot for attempting to commandeer public transportation for their escape.Havana is pervaded by a strong sense of decay. It is a city with a patina, a patina of aging paint and deferred maintenance. It sounds a distant western echo of Alexandria with its grand old structures that are either crumbling or in the process of being renovated.Today it is easy to create images, and images are being created at a pace undreamed of even a few years ago. There are myriad images of Cuba available in books, periodicals, and on the internet. So why did I choose to add to the plethora?First, my friend whose sturdy boat got us to Havana and then on through a violent storm to Key West, has pushed me relentlessly to publish these photographs. Second, my publisher, a charming and intelligent Athenian, has supported the project enthusiastically, and that has given me the will to move forward. And third, I believe, based on a review of many photographs of Cuba that have published in recent years, that those you will see in these pages may contribute some further insights into the minds and souls of the Cuban people: their character, and their great strength in adversity.Photos that simply depict are easy. Insight can elevate a photograph to the memorable and perhaps valuable. I hope some of these images are successful in providing insights into the people themselves, who may have sometimes been forgotten in the maelstrom of battles between two neighboring governments.Robert A. McCabeAthens, 23.3.2006