In late January of this year I traveled to Cuba at the invitation of Duke Alumni Travel for a unique educational exchange program. Duke received a special license from the U.S. State Department to promote people-to-people exchange between the U.S. and Cuba, which meant—for me and a lucky group of almost thirty people—a weeklong immersion into Cuban art, architecture, music, dance, and history, as well as an opportunity to connect with many Cubans who specialize in these areas. As a group, we were based in Old Havana, traveled throughout the city, and made an excursion to the provincial cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad. As a result of my book, The Idea of Cuba, and my research into the life and writings of the Cuban patriot José Martí, I was invited to participate in the trip as a Duke faculty member, to show my photographs, and to lecture about Martí while on the island.
I realized from taking pictures on three earlier trips to Cuba—and later from editing and writing about those pictures for my book—that photographs can tell us something about a place beyond our personal experience, can reveal things that we don’t already know, think, or feel. When I returned to the U.S., I wrote my fellow Duke travelers to ask them to share their photographs of Cuba with me. The following is my small selection of their photographs, a cumulative portrait of their impressions of the island and its inhabitants.
—Alex Harris [documentary photographer; Duke University professor of the practice of public policy and documentary studies]