Cuba – It’s the people.

our human collective

It’s not the food, not the classic cars, nor the crumbling yet magnificent old buildings. It’s not the music, the dance, the mojitos, nor the abundance of great art. These are reasons enough to visit for sure, but for me, the reason I love Cuba is the people.

“No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory, and – despite 50 years of withering neglect – too damned beautiful.” Lonely Planet

“However you feel about the government, however you feel about the last 55 years, there aren’t any places in the world that look like this. I mean, it’s utterly enchanting.” Anthony Bourdain

Boys will be boys.

And girls will be girls.

Cuba is raw, life is lived on the streets and survival has its challenges. But alas, they shrug their shoulders and smile. That’s life in Cuba.

A fire in the belly is inherent in Cuban dancers. Having been a professional dancer, I’m aware that no matter how good a technician one might be, it’s the complete commitment to the movement and oomph that makes for a stand out performer. In Cuba, it’s the norm and not the exception.

Kenia backstage during the renovation of the Teatro Sauto.

A different kind of dance is performed on the half-hour at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetary in Santiago de Cuba.

A dock worker, one of three that tied up our cruise ship on my first visit to Cuba. Sadly no more cruises to Cuba from the USA.

Fun with the seniors at a daycare facility in Old Havana.

My friend Rolando. We met 8 years ago at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital. He had just moved from Havana after having surgery for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer but more common in children. He is now 21 and wants to be a priest. Roly is praying the rosary in the rood loft at the Convento e Iglesia de la Merced in Old Havana. He along with his mom Tamara, have gone above and beyond to enhance my trips to Cuba.

On the wall in a bare room, with only the family Santeria alter, is a framed image of Nayelis, a young cancer patient. I had given her the print the day before. Photo Philanthropy, it’s a blessing to me.

Up to 15,000 devotees of Our Lady Of Mercy come to pray and participate in the procession in Old Havana.

Men at work.

I had the good fortune of attending a rooftop service of the Metropolitan Community Church on a rooftop, at 8:30 at night with my friend Luis. It was founded in 1968 as a fellowship of inclusion. They stand up for social justice and civil rights for the LGBTQ community. The pastor Elaine Saralegui was gracious and kind. I found the traditional and spiritual communities in Cuba to be very open and embracing.

Boxing in Cuba is very popular. These women were fierce.

A man and his puppets. Senén Calero. The artistry in Cuba is everywhere.

Kidlets and a local composer from the Kairo Center in Matanzas. A center that integrates art and social services.

Manuel Hernandez and his grandson in his Galeria Taller “Lolo in Mantanzas. Manuel became famous as a political illustrator and now works as a painter, potter, sculptor, and all-around fabulous artist. If you’re there, his studio is a must-visit.

Thank you for taking the time to scroll through to the end. I have so many more to share but alas, I think you’ve had enough. For me, I’ll never have enough of Cuba. Lastly, thank you to every single person in this post for trusting me to capture your spirit.

34 Comments

  1. kathy nalven

    Absolutely phenomenal!

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Jeryl. Thank YOU for taking the time to look and comment. I am lucky, I love what I do and I am just capturing what is. The light in all of us.

      Reply
    • LisaN

      Awww, sister Kathy. Thank you for always being my number one fan. From my first dance recital and then on forward, you have always been my champion. xoxo love you.

      Reply
    • SANDRA Chatelain

      What a lovely refresher. Havana was a feast for the senses…and not just the architecture. It’s the people, as you say. The energy! Glad we got to taste it. Thanks for these portraits.

      Reply
      • LisaN

        Thanks Sandra. it’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there. It’s the people for sure. xo

        Reply
  2. Jeryl Madfis

    WOW!!!!
    I love your work. Thank you for sharing….
    There is so much beauty every where.

    Reply
  3. Andrea Colton

    This work is amazing. I thought I was looking at a National Geographic website!!! In fact, can you send these images to NG??

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Gee, from your mouth to god’s ears! LOL Who knows, but I like that idea. Maybe I’ll look into that. I’m just glad you feel that way. xoxo and it was great seeing you guys!

      Reply
  4. Lima Feuturime Auclair’

    Lisa,
    You are the people too.
    Your love and compassion for humanity is what makes you you.
    Beautiful inside out!
    Hugs n kisses my dear friend.

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Lima. I try. It takes one to know one. We are lucky folk.

      Reply
    • Gilda de la Concepción Pérez Hernández

      Hermoso trabajo, las calles y las personas de Cuba están listas para fotógrafos tan geniales como tú que saben capturar su esencia. Besos y éxitos

      Reply
      • LisaN

        Gracias mi amiga Cubana. Gracias por toda tu ayuda!
        Abrazos y besos!

        Reply
  5. Diane sobo

    How beautiful and wonderfully done LISA. The photos show that diversity, love, strength, compassion, art and faith are key elements in all lives., and that all lives matter. Let’s all learn to love more! ❤️

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks. You got that right Diane. Love is all there really is. :-)))

      Reply
  6. Lyndon

    Lisa, captured the spirit and soul of the people, again
    Then there is the life story you attribute to the images…
    As ever, captivating and strong.
    Congratulations on portraying the deeper story rather than just the image.
    Lyndon

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Lyndon. I guess that’s what we really do want to capture, the deeper story. That makes me feel weepy. xoxo

      Reply
  7. Susan Storch

    Amazing, wherever you go you capture incredible and timeless imagery !

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Susan. Always appreciated from another kindred spirit. xo

      Reply
  8. Diane Rippe

    Hello Lisa, this could be some of your BEST work love it and love the spirit of the
    Cuban people! Love you too.Diane

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Diane! Thank you!!! Miss you girl. Good that it makes you love the Cuban people, and of course good that you still love me. Love you too.

      Reply
  9. John miller

    Hola Lisa you have a great gift in that your photography captures the soul and spirit of the people you photograph

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks John. I try hard my friend because I love what I do.

      Reply
  10. Jane Dagmi

    Blown away.

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Oh Jane. That makes me feel so good. Your talent blows me aways.

      Reply
  11. Amanda Ricken Simonetta

    These are so wonderful Lisa. I have to go there! Thank you for sharing these images with the world.

    Love,
    Amanda

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Amanda. Thanks so much. When you are ready please please please call me. Do not be deterred by our policies. The Cubans are happy to have us and it’s a fabulous trip. Sending love up north.

      Reply
  12. JACK STERN

    Wow Lisa. You sure captured the spirit of these people. What a beautiful artist. Love you. Cousin Jack

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Jack. Can’t wait to host you in February. Love you too.

      Reply
  13. Donnie

    lisa my love,

    thoroughly enjoying your website, savoring each image; feeling you in the body of work; seeing you capturing the moment…..imagining I’m on your magic carpet of exploration and curiosity.

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Donnie my love. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for savoring each image. Miss you my friend. Love you to and yours.

      Reply
  14. Claire Faithfull

    Lisa this is absolutely beautiful, what an amazing expression of art and culture combined, you are such a gift to our world. You bring such truth and heart through your heart and photography.
    Love you loads and am so grateful we are friends. xxxxx

    Reply
    • LisaN

      I’m so lucky that I just love people so much. What I do helps me to connect with some that I might not otherwise ever meet. I’m so glad that we are friends and together we do our part to make life just a little sweeter. Love you loads. xoxo

      Reply
  15. Michele J

    Such beautiful and evocative images!

    Reply
    • LisaN

      Thanks Michele. It’s easier when your subjects are so beautiful and evocative. :-))

      Reply

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E: lisanalven@gmail.com

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is a Portrait Photographer who specializes in people, floral art and capturing our collective humanity