Andreas Bauer

Top 10 Cuba in 10 Iconic Images

© Andreas Bauer

Cuba, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” a small country with a complicated backstory. Artists of all disciplines have been drawn to its shores. Famously the home to Ernest Hemingway, who wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Old Man And The Sea whilst a resident of Havana; Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir were also inspired by this spirited nation with all its idealism and fervour. 

─── by Isabel O'Toole, March 13, 2019
  • Cuba has seen much change in the last century, known for its revolution, and later its poverty. However the Cuban life force prevails through all adversity, and it is remembered foremost as a vibrant isle; warm, vivid, spirited. These photographs paint a portrait of a steadfast nation, unpredictable from one moment to the next.

    Color photo by Alex Almeida, boy cycling in front of cuban flag mural Cuba.
    © Alex Almeida

    1. Alex Almeida – Untitled, Havana

    Although much of Alex Almeida‘s focus lies on his native Brazil, he has also photographed extensively in Cuba, capturing images that strike a fine balance between the visceral and contemplative, pulsating with movement and energy yet imbued with a sense of sensitivity and depth. While Cuba has long been a favourite destination for photographers, and Almeida’s subjects may appear somewhat stereotypical – vintage cars, revolutionary murals – his unique sensibility presents them in a fresh light, exemplified in his stunning depiction of a silhouette of a man riding a bicycle, against a motif-laden backdrop.

    Discover more of Alex’s work here.

    Black and white Photography Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra, in Cuba
    © Enrique Meneses.

    2. Enrique Meneses – Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra, 1957 

    Spanish photographer Enrique Meneses had the rare privilege of photographing the Cuban revolution as it was unfolding in the Sierra Maestra. We’ve all seen the images of the triumphant revolutionary leaders celebrating their victory amongst the crowds of Havana, but these images from fields are much less seen.

    In this photo, a young Fidel Castro “the Robin Hood of the Sierra”, takes a moment to read the news from the capital on a break from frequent outbursts of fighting that took place in the mountain range at the time. The lush Sierra Maestra mountain range served as permanent headquarters for the war against Batista and was the ultimate guerilla base with its rich greenery and heavy foliage.

    Color street photography by Andrea Torrei, boys playing soccer, Havana, Cuba
    © Andrea Torrei

    3. Andrea Torrei – Havana, 2015

    Andrea Torrei is an Italian photographer who traverses the globe, meticulously framed and timed images of everyday lif that possess a painterly eye for color and a keen perception of light. They strike a delicate balance between dynamism and composure, honesty and creativity, light and tone, exemplified in her portrayal of a group of children, whose shadowy forms resemble a troupe of dancers, perhaps Cuba’s rich musical heritage. It’s a striking image, that offers a new perspective on a well-photographed city, for it was captured, not on the iconic Malecón or amidst the tourist-laden streets, but in a more off-the-beaten-path location.

    You can discover more of Andrea’s work here.

    © Peter Van Agtmael

    4. Peter Van Agtmael Camp 6, Guantanamo Bay, 2017 

    Guantanamo Bay is the most notorious and high-security military prison in the world, home to 40 detainees accused of crimes against the US. Established under the George W. Bush administration in 2002, President Obama pledged to close the camp during his time in office but was unsuccessful in doing so.

    In January 2018 President Trump signed an executive order to keep the camp open indefinitely. The camp has been accused of using torture methods to retrieve information from detainees and is widely considered to be in violation of human rights laws by several human rights organisations. Peter Van Agtmael has been one of the very few photographers allowed to enter and document the prison. Instead of documenting the prisoners, his focus lies on the anonymity and ghostliness of the institution.

    Ernesto Che Guevara, 1960 B&W Photography by Alberto Korda in Cuba
    © Alberto Korda

    5. Alberto Korda Ernesto “Che” Guevara, 1960

    No photo is more recognisable than this one by Alberto Korda, a fashion photographer whose image of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara has become so prominent as an anti capitalist symbol that it is said to have been the most reproduced image in history, more so than the Mona Lisa or Marilyn Monroe with her skirts flying.

    From Latin America to Vietnam to South Africa and the U.S.S.R. Che’s face became a household icon for social activism, littering dormitory walls and emblazoned on flags and protest signs. However, this image also teaches us a great lesson about commodification and globalization. Korda’s photograph no longer holds the same power it did in the mid-twentieth century. Once a symbol of a society struggling toward the ultimate abolishment of capital and inequality, Korda’s Che has now been converted into its own form of capitalist currency: a cool knickknack or keyring, a pin or poster or touristy T-shirt.

    color street photo of Havana, Cuba by Andreas Bauer
    © Andreas Bauer

    6. Andreas Bauer “Taxi driver”. Havana

    Andreas Bauer‘s captivating image, which earned third prize in our 2021 Street Photography Award, presents a familiar Havana scene but rises above clichéd portrayals of the Cuban capital. The choice of framing, accentuated by a low-angled viewpoint, coupled with a blend of textures and vibrant colors, renders the image increasingly captivating with each passing moment. It unveils nuanced and potentially enlightening details. The tired driver reclining against his car, the crouched figure tending to his motorcycle, and the barely discernible woman on the left leaning against the weathered colonial facade—all appear suspended in time, serving as a poignant metaphor, perhaps, for the nation as a whole.

    Black & white photo of a man in Cuba
    © Agnès Varda

    7. Agnès Varda  Benny Moré performing among restaurant carts, 1963

    “When you’re in a place, what you’re doing can’t be confused for anywhere else – it should be an indication of the country and the epoch,” – Agnès Varda

    Part of a series of photographs shot during the making of Varda’s essay film “Salut Les Cubains” (Hello Cubans) In this frame we see Benny “El Rey” Moré, a beloved Cuban tenor, do an impromptu performance for Varda amongst restaurant carts.

    It perfectly encapsulates the Cuban love of music and dancing that Varda had set out to capture in her film, and its energy still fizzles today. This image serves as a relic of a fervent, joyous nation. Her reason for making her film from still images was inspired by the French artist and filmmaker Chris Marker, but was also to avoid lugging around 16mm equipment and dealing with bad sound.


    Color photo of a girl celebrating her "Quinceañera" in Havana, Cuba
    © Claudia Cobianchi

    8. Claudia Cobianchi – “Quinceañera”. Havana

    The quinceañera, marking a girl’s transition into womanhood on her 15th birthday, is a deeply cherished tradition in Latino culture, often marked by extravagant celebrations. Even in communist Cuba, where poverty is widespread, such festivities hold significant cultural importance, as depicted in this image of a young girl adorned in a vibrant pink gown, parading through the streets of the capital in a typical open-top car.

    Black and white photo by Xavier Roy. Man playing violin, Havana, Cuba
    © Xavier Roy

    9. Xavier Roy- Untitled. Havana, 2002 

    One of the most gifted photographers of our era, Xavier Roy captures deeply evocative images that reveal the delicate beauty of humanity.

    Fascinated by Cuba, the Frenchman has embarked on nine separate journeys to the island, each time producing images that offer a unique perspective. While many contemporary photographers are drawn to the country’s vibrant colors, Roy chooses to depict it in his characteristic monochrome palette, imbuing his photographs with a sense of timelessness reminiscent of days past. This stunning depiction of a violinist performing on Havana’s iconic Malecón perfectly exemplifies Roy’s approach—a captivating homage to Cuba’s distinct, enduring, essence.

    Read our profile on Xavier here.

    Black & White Photography - Editors Picks - Black & white photo of a boxer in Cuba
    © Edgard de Bono

    10. Edgard de Bono – The Boxer

    Cuba is synonymous with boxing, and for good reason. The country boasts a rich history of boxing, which gained prominence as early as the 1930s and experienced a surge in popularity following the Cuban revolution of 1959, when sports training programs were implemented nationwide. This striking black and white portrait of a boxer by Italian photographer Edgard de Bono, head bowed in contemplation, serves as a compelling symbol of what has been termed ‘the loneliest sport’—one that continues to hold a special place in Cuban culture.


    Article updated March 2024

    All images © their respective owners