Damaso Reyes: Cuba

Damaso Reyes recently took his M8 to Cuba for the first time, documenting the musical journey of Grammy award-winning Cuban-American Jazz composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill as he journeyed back to the island of his father’s birth.

For Americans the very word conjures up a wide range of mixed emotions. As a photojournalist I had wanted to visit the island for as long as I’ve been taking images but the embargo and travel restrictions that have been in place for decades made it a challenge. In December of 2010, I got my chance when a friend working on the documentary film Oye Cuba! invited me to witness a historic musical journey.

Grammy award-winning pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill had dreamed of bringing his father’s orchestra to Cuba ever since his first trip to the island in 2002. His dad, Chico O’Farrill is one of Cuba’s greatest Jazz composers and he never returned to the island after the 1960′s. The nation of his birth continued to influence his music even as he remained in self imposed exile. After he died in 2001 with the dream of returning unfulfilled Arturo took up the cause.

In December Arturo returned with the Chico O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to perform at the Havana Jazz Festival. It was an amazing week of music and culture that I captured with my Leica M8. The music they played was a mix of his own and that of his father. Many Americans forget that Jazz has deep roots in Cuba and Latin America and Chico’s music, especially his Afro Cuban Jazz Suite, reminds us of this connection. What was perhaps most poignant, while listening to Arturo play and conduct his father’s music is that Chico wrote most of it while he is living outside of Cuba. Listening to this music in the land that inspired it was a profound experience. Having the unique access Arturo gave me to photograph it being played was even more exciting.

I ended up using the 90mm Summarit quite a bit and the results were both surprising and impressive. First, the light in Cuba is unlike anywhere else. Even puddles looked lovely in Havana’s light. I’ve traveled and lived all over the world from Rwanda to Indonesia to France and the richness and saturation of the colors I encountered there was completely unexpected. I was happy to have the M8 with me because of its ability to render color so well. I’m very much a 50mm lens guy, shooting it on my M6s or an equivalent on the M8 most of the time. Because of the nature of the venues the band was performing at much of the time, I couldn’t get as close as I normally like so I ended up using the 90mm more than usual. What I discovered was that this lens worked great at a distance but even better close up, allowing me to capture detail in a way that shorter lenses don’t allow.

Cuba is an amazing place and I know I only scratched the surface of this rich culture and its people. I hope this is just the first of many visits.

-Damaso Reyes

You can see more of Damaso’s images from Cuba by visiting: http://picasaweb.google.com/damasoreyes/CubaArtistic2010

Damaso Reyes was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He began his career as a photojournalist fifteen years ago while still in high school. As a young man of color growing up in one of the worst neighborhoods in America, he was fascinated by the way in which his community was portrayed in the media. As an adult he chose to pursue photography in order to ensure that there was more diversity in the images that are presented to the public. His award-winning work has been published by The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Daily News, and Der Spiegel. His images are also featured in the monograph Black: A Celebration of a Culture and the book Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers go to War. His work can be seen online at www.theeuropeans.net and www.damaso.com.