Gathering Cuban photographers all over the world

Unfiltered Cuba: A Vision of a Cuban Photographer

A review of Unfiltered Cuba, a book by one of Cuban Lenses United members
One of the pictures included in the book. (Photo by Reynaldo Cruz)

Put together in March 2023, Unfiltered Cuba is a coffee table photo book published completely independently by Cuban photographer Reynaldo Cruz Díaz. The book brings a personal vision of Cuba by its author, with the photos he took through his last three years as a photojournalist for a government-run newspaper and four years as an independent street photographer.

The photo selection and editing were the work of two Americans: photographer Tamara Álvarez and designer and photographer Darlene Susco. US journalist Tom Sharpe wrote the Foreword. All of them had met Cruz in the past, and they have stayed in touch with him throughout the years, knowing his work and having a clear idea of his vision of the world.

Unfiltered Cuba does not intend to bring a full-scale description of Cuba, as Cruz told A Little Bit of All via telephone: “These photos are just a scratch on the surface of what Cuba is. They don’t even represent all of my work. However, I tried to be concise and bring a personal vision without repeating myself too much. I also tried to show a part of Cuba that normally does not appear in touristic brochures.”

Perhaps that is why Cruz’s work barely shows part of his coverage for ¡AHORA!, the local newspaper of his native Holguín. Nevertheless, he says he always took photos of what was happening around him, even though he knew they would not make it to the printed pages. That’s why he took some pictures while on assignment, but the frames were not part of the task they had given him.

“Once I started seeing things with a third eye, a photographer’s true eye,” he added, “I kept photographing where the ‘action’ was, but also started turning my camera 180 degrees to photograph the abandoned sugar mill, the daily struggles of some Cubans that would not make it to the paper.”

In just 30 pages, Unfiltered Cuba goes from politics to religion, from private entrepreneurship and resilience to the oft-praised creativity and inventiveness of Cubans, from joy and apparent freedom to daily struggles and lack of essential liberties, from pristine classic cars to poverty and decay.

The book has no timeline, as one of the first photos happens to be the latest photograph he took (of those included in the book) in the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic in Cuba. Each image is an independent story in itself. Cruz uses them to present and explain particular aspects of the nation’s life, bringing some poignant criticism that would not sit well in pro-government environments.

It is an interesting read in general. Cruz criticizes government administration and social aspects of the nation’s life. At the same time, he highlights the resilience and inventiveness of his compatriots. The pictures are full of detail and capture both historical moments and everyday life, while providing a very illustrative portrait of Cuba.

The cover of the Unfiltered Cuba, with the Cuban flag against the backdrop. (Photo by Lilidiana Cruz Pazos)

About the author

Reynaldo Cruz Díaz (Holguín, Cuba, 1983) graduated with honors as a BA in English with French as Second Foreign Language. After serving two years as a professor, he joined the local newspaper of his native Holguín as a translator and web editor. Within a month, he had already grabbed a point-and-shoot camera and was photographing for the publication. In March 2010, he started an independent online magazine named Universo Béisbol. Soon after, he garnered reputation in baseball historians and analysts circles both in Cuba and the United States.

His magazine got recognition by MLB, and he was the only Cuban photographer with credentials to be on the field for the Tampa Bay Rays game in Havana with Barack Obama in attendance. During his trips to the US, he attended baseball conferences with the Society for American Baseball Research and received credentials for games in Fenway Park, Citi Field, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium, while also attending and covering Minor League Games. He attended two Hall of Fame Induction Weekends with Universo Béisbol and one while photographing for Swing Completo.

He crossed Río Grande in January 2022 and has already filed for asylum in the US.

Taken directly from A Little Bit of All magazine. Unfiltered Cuba happens to be the first physical publication by Cuban Lenses United.

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