With a large-format camera in hand and a literal artistic license — issued by the Treasure Department — in his pocket, American photographer Andrew Moore was granted permission to travel to Cuba in 1998 to document the distinct and unique architecture.
Moore was hooked on the visual medium ever since he shot his first film roll as a kid. Although his dad was at first reluctant, he helped Moore build an attic darkroom for him and his older brother to develop the photos they took on a Pentax Spotmatic.
During his years in college at Princeton, Moore took classes with the master photographer and teacher Emmet Gowin, acclaimed for his intimate portraiture and the landscapes of the American West.
“I studied under him for three years, almost as if I was a medieval apprentice, and through him, I learned all aspects of working in large format,” Moore tells PetaPixel.
“During my junior year, Joel Meyerowitz was a visiting professor, who at that time had just begun working on his ‘Cape Light’ series. Obviously, I’d always loved photography, and working with the 8×10 camera suited me so well, but when I saw what a color contact print looked like, that was when the missing piece fell into the puzzle: I decided right then that I was going to be a large-format color photographer.”
Moore didn’t change his mind. He took his love for large-format and traveled the world to create photographic projects, capturing places in great detail and with vibrant colors.
After finishing a series about movie theaters in Times Square, he planned to travel to Cuba to shoot theaters there, too. Despite the travel regulations being less than clear, Moore still applied for a license to enter Cuba and soon received the green light for his trip.
“I also had some contacts down there through Darrel Couturier, a gallerist, who had been representing Cuban artists in Los Angeles,” Moore says. “So, when I arrived in Havana, I was immediately immersed in a very active art scene, and through those people, I met Paquito Vives, my guide and very close friend, who ended up working with me during all my photography trips over 14 years.”
“But what really astonished me was how alive the city felt, how every building and street corner had a story, and I realized right away that I wanted to photograph, not just the theaters, but the architectural fabric of Havana itself.”
The experience of shooting in Cuba was just as colorful as the images themselves. From accidentally pulling his rental car out into Fidel Castro’s motorcade — which was quietly traveling at night with their headlights off — to getting permission to photograph the Teatro Campoamor, a ruined opera house in central Havana, the memories of the trip will always stay with Moore.
He photographed Havana and other Cuban cities between September 1998 and January 2001, as reported by Colossal. During that time, he shot more than seven hundred 8×10 color negatives, all with the help of his friend Vives, who acted as scout, translator, and assisted in making the experience as smooth as it could be. Alongside Vives, four other assistants also accompanied Moore.
“All of us learned about the city by walking its streets, by knocking on doors, and through talking with the residents about the history of their city,” Moore recalls. “People would frequently complain about the condition of their houses, but they were always friendly, and most freely invited us into their homes for a small coffee and long conversations.”
Although Moore’s photographic collection of Cuba will forever hold the essence of the country and its homes, filled with history, tile roofs, high ceilings, and full-length windows, he has mixed feelings about revisiting, particularly because of the passing of his friend Vives.
“The city is also much changed, restored in many places, but the political situation is worse than it has been in a long time. If I do return at some point, it’s more likely I’ll carry a heavy heart than a cumbersome camera. But then again, I am eternally hopeful for an open and tolerant rule, one that far better reflects the beautiful, resourceful, and courageous Cubans themselves.”
More of Moore’s work can be found on his website and Instagram.
Image credits: Photos by Andrew Moore.