Vanishing Cuba is the accumulation of 24 trips to Cuba by New York-based photographer, creative director and designer Michael Chinnici. In his latest storytelling photo book, Chinnici documents the people, places and social unrest that make up this charming but half-forgotten country. During his travels, Chinicci has explored the bustling vibrant cities of Havana in the north, to Trinidad in the south to the quiet unexplored rural towns such as Güira de Melena that lie between.
The book is a mixture of high-resolution color and black and white photos plus beautifully written photo essays inspired by Chinnici's Cuban friends. All text appears in both English and Spanish, yet again showing the love Chinnici has for Cuba and its language. Split into 12 photo-led chapters as well as several chapters on the author, technical details and acknowledgments the book is incredibly well-thought-out and easy to absorb in just a few sittings. Throughout the book, Chinnici explores themes of hope, kindness, sacrifice, resilience, pride and change in an extremely thorough observation of Cuba and its people.
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In the prologue, Rocio Montes Serrano, a graduate in History from the University of Havana describes Cuba as 'her' in a heartfelt admission that makes its [Cuba's] struggles seem more personal, more understandable and entirely more relatable.
"She allowed the men to define her industry, her life. They took more from her than she ever received in return, and she never learned how to bloom alone. Now, her youth is slipping away, she lacks the most fundamental needs like food, medicine, electricity and water".
These words describe the Vanishing Cuba Chinnici set out to document - a Cuba that has suffered through isolation, political turmoil and decay and yet is still vibrant and full of life. By Rocio's personification of the country, you can't help but feel somewhat more connected and therefore more sympathetic to the people who call her home.
Chinnici describes Cubanos (the name for Cuban people) as glass half full characters with half-empty glasses. They have faced struggle, revolts, unrest and repression and yet the people of Cuba are resilient, hopeful and full of soul. This is evident in Chinnici's endearing, naturally lit photos of kids playing in the street, families taking respite from the sun in cool, sheltered doorways and musicians providing a soundtrack to the streets of Havana.
Of course, a book on Cuba wouldn't be complete without several photos of the vintage cars it's so famous for. In one photo, a bright blue 1955 Chevrolet stands out against a modern, red, recently renovated house showing the juxtaposition between old and new. But even the old cars are becoming more difficult to repair as parts get harder to come by and often repairs are done on streets, not in fancy repair shops like you would find in other countries Chinnici explains.
Despite traveling to Cuba on multiple occasions with multiple cameras (often worth more than many Cubanos would earn in a year) Chinnici describes how he was always so surprised and humbled that Cuban people would welcome him into their community as a friend without hesitation.
While the book features photos mostly taken on his cameras, a few were taken on his iPhone X including a stunning panorama of the Bay of Cienfuegos, taken just after sunrise and Viñales Valley just north of Pinar del Rio province which has been a dedicated UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. The proof truly is in the picture - you really don't need the most expensive camera to capture images that make you go "wow".
So often photographers are accused of exploitation when it comes to documenting a community they are not part of, but Chinnici has managed to do it in a way that feels heartfelt and genuine. Dedicated to the people of Cuba, Vanishing Cuba is a sincere, and important body of work that highlights the issues, hardships and triumphs faced by those who live there.
In the words of activist artist, Leonor Anthony who wrote the foreword, "This book is not an exploitation of a political situation, but an exaltation of all the textures that make up our magical island and its people". She ends the foreword with, " Thank you, Michael Chinnici, for finally seeing us".
Should you want to get your hands on a copy of Vanishing Cuba, orders can be placed via the Red Octo Publishing Website. Prices start at $150 for the silver edition - a signed copy with 300 photographs and stories in a hefty 12x13-inch hardback.
The deluxe edition will set you back $225 but it includes a handcrafted slipcase and is limited to 500 copies while the Reserve edition ranges from $396-695 and includes a custom front cover and a personal message from Michael Chinnici.
Vanishing Cuba captures the soul of its people, the struggles it's faced and the change that needs to happen in order for it to progress. Through making the book, Chinnici has created life-long friendships, shared captivating stories of Cubanos. He has demonstrated his love affair for Cuba through this incredibly compelling photo book which would make a perfect gift for anyone into traveling, photography or learning about other cultures.