by Gary Topper
Born and raised in Los Angeles, I first started traveling with camera in hand at the age of 21, on a 7 month solo journey around the world. This was in the early 60’s when tourism had not really reached most of the planet. The opportunity to see a multitude of cultures sparked a lifelong interest in travel and photography, documenting a mysterious world few had seen. The passion to find places both spiritual and secular led to years of continuous travel, including this recent journey to Cuba in January 2015.
Several years ago I joined the Marin Photo Club, where I met a community of wonderful photographers, who were open to sharing their knowledge and expertise. The stimulation of exploring a shared interest with like-minded colleagues has continued to refine my “shutter eye”. Recently awarded the Best Color Photograph at the 2015 Marin County Fair and Best in Show photograph by the Mill Valley photography studio, The Image Flow, my enthusiasm and excitement for photography has fueled a driving passion to capture “moments in time” in a rapidly changing world.
On January 16, 2015 our plane touched down at José Martí International Airport at 1:30 am and we became the first Americans to arrive in Cuba legally, after the travel ban was lifted by President Obama. After a 2 hour delay getting our luggage, we were welcomed with smiles and the first legal visa stamps in our passports.
Thus began a photo journey into an incredibly warm and welcoming country. Nowhere else in the world had I experienced such enthusiasm and excitement of people greeting us as Americans. Throughout the country I repeatedly heard “gracias Obama,” and the genuine anticipation of a better life to come was everywhere.
These photos, taken in Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Trinidad and Viñales were at a moment in time prior to the arrival of the internet, credit cards and American TV. It was still very much a socialistic country. Now significant change has begun and the question arises, will the people shown in these photographs benefit from the first contact in 56 years, or will class distinctions separate the poor and rich, funneling new money mainly to the rising middle class. Whatever occurs, the people of Cuba, at this moment in history, are the warmest, most open and embracing people I have met in all my world travels.