Arden Ward Upton photographs the brilliance of Cuba.


I believed visiting Cuba would be a dream come true to any photographer, and I am a firm believer in chasing dreams. It has been several years since my trip to Havana and surrounding areas, but the memories have not faded.

Arriving in Cuba was like taking a step back in time. I most easily relate it to the scene in Titanic just before the doors of the old, dilapidated, sunken ship open into the shiny new ballroom. The streets of Havana are in poor repair and look like they have been that way for half a century. When you walk inside the hotels or public buildings, they tell a different story, of a time when Cuba flourished. It feels like something straight out of history. Photographically, the contrast of life to the U.S. spoke to me, but what captured me about Cuba the most were the people.

The people I met were some of the most welcoming and warmest people I have ever encountered. The country itself has stripped so much from its people, such as freedom and the ability to have economic gain and stability. I believe the spirit of the everyday Cuban will remain forever undaunted by the political strife they suffer.

During a walking tour around Havana, I photographed and spoke to a couple whose home was taken from them and they moved into a monument. Inside this little space, they welcomed me and had such great pride that they offered their last Coke to me. As much as I regretted to take it, they were offended that I tried to decline. They taught me that the country has a tourist dollar and a national dollar. The convertible peso, or tourist dollar, is worth approximately 25 times more than the national peso. Cubans are paid in the lesser of the two and tourists use the convertible. I left them with some money for their time, and even though they were reluctant to take it, I just couldn’t bear to not offer something to them.

The memories that stick in my mind are of people playing dominos and singing while hanging laundry, of children playing in the street, and of an overwhelming sense of happiness under all circumstances. I couldn’t help but wish that we had this same type of contentment at home.

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