Photographer Amanda Fordyce forgoes Havana’s changing political climate to prove that the nuances of youth are universal – and often involve football, dancing and dating
Australian-born photographer Amanda Fordyce’s recent trip to Havana was undertaken with the aim of having conversations with the people there, and after recently completing a course run by fashion photographer Nick Knight (Nick Knight’s Mastered), she reveals, “I’ve been looking at my pictures a little deeper.”
With that in mind, earlier this year, she captured the nuances of the island during her travels, such as the colours of the buildings, the fashions, the youth, their tattoos and the details of day-to-day life. With the United State's commercial, economic and financial embargo, enforced upon Cuba in 1962, recently relaxed by Barack Obama who cited the economic sanctions as a failure, the possibility that we might see a different Havana in a few years time is likely, and one of the reasons why Fordyce wants to delve deeper into Cuba's multi-ethnic culture.
"It's obviously going to have some great opportunities for Cuba's economy – I really do hope that Cuba sees some positive impacts of that soon – but my hope is that any significant changes to the cultural fabric are a while off,” she says. “In my limited experience, Habanero's don't want for much; they have a strong sense of history, culture, creativity, self-expression, and are probably some of the most genuine and welcoming people I have ever experienced. It truly is a magical experience on so many levels, so I really hope that the relaxed embargo doesn't impact that too much.”
“When a guy says he’s going to pick you up, he calls you on the landline and picks you up from your doorstep at that agreed time. And then invites you to his mum’s place for lunch the next day” – Amanda Fordyce
In one image, there's an old-fashioned and vintage mustard yellow car and in another, there's a bus travelling through the rustic city – coloured a striking blue against the pale hues of the surrounding buildings. These are images of a Havana now, and they portray a more traditional world without American imports... or even the internet. With this lack of technology, genuine human connections are captured via Fordyce's lens.
The photographer explains that she's fascinated by “the people, the 80/90s fashion, the sexually driven boys, the old folk, the love for Che, the nightlife and energy along the Malecon, the cars, the kids” and having “shit all internet”. This lack of technology means plans are fixed and it's harder to bail on a date last minute – which gives a touch of old fashioned tradition. “When a guy says he’s going to pick you up, he calls you on the landline and picks you up from your doorstep at that agreed time. And then invites you to his mum's place for lunch the next day,” Fordyce laughs.
The process of how the images were shot are somewhat sporadic as the camera embarks on a natural journey, guided by the eye of a curious traveller looking for a connection. Fordyce, who usually finds herself shooting fashion editorials, explains: “This is the longest period of time I’ve had shooting just for myself with no specific briefs, clients or clothing in mind. I shot whenever and however I wanted”, and it's this freeing sense of capturing time as and when it comes that complements the images of youth and its carefree attitude in Havana.
Admittedly, the images draw some parallels to her own life. Having been recently told that as a young child she would often sit on her swing in her back yard, watching and assessing people, which has nurtured her eye for photography. And such, the characters immortalised in her images bear some resemblances to the characters that colour her life at home. “I think there are a lot of people in my pictures that remind me of important people in my life. I have noticed I shoot a lot of young boys that remind me of my twin brother, and maybe 'cause my mum was so strict on looking people in the eye when talking to them is the reason I search for that engaging eye.” One quote that Fordyce says guided her through her trip was by photographer Eve Arnold: “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument”.
That said, even though Fordyce was only in Havana for a short period of time, her fascination for the island is already immense – and she is excited to return. One of the biggest challenges she found was the language barrier, but given the community’s welcoming nature, she found the locals had an appreciation for her doing her best to communicate with them in Spanish... or Spanglish as she jokes.
“I was determined to speak Spanish, even though it was a bit more Spanglish, and it seemed to get me through with a smile and some sign language. People in Havana are generally warm, humble and generous – they're open to human connection.” She adds, “You will never see people looking at the ground when you pass them like is often the case in say, London and Paris. They're not staring at the phones, or iPads, they're playing chess or football in the street, chatting to their neighbour, asking you to go Salsa, or walk along the Malecon. We met this beautiful girl riding her bike on the street, I asked if I could photographer her, we swapped names chatted some Spanglish then she invited us to her house for a party. I fell in love with the people and their way of life. I really want to learn Spanish properly and go back and see more of the country and really immerse myself in the experience.”
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