"One of my biggest goals is being conscious of not making the Google search image of Cuba," says photographer Zach Lewis of his latest photo series, taken over the course of a month in the country. "We've all seen the American cars from the 1950s and the beautifully colored crumbling buildings. Those do serve as a backdrop, but I'm more interested in telling a story about how the people live."
Lewis spent every day of his time in Cuba last June looking for an authentic side of a country that's often portrayed as a romanticized time capsule: he ventured into areas cut off from tourism, like Santiago de Cuba, one of his favorite cities. Navigating with limited Spanish, no internet, and a strong sense of wanderlust, the New York-based photographer found that Cubans had a deep curiosity to learn about what's outside their isolated nation. Lewis found his visit so compelling that he plans to make three trips back in 2016 alone. "I find myself thinking about this place every day," says Lewis, who intends to compile his photographs into a book about contemporary Cuba. "I'm really eager to get back there."
Here, we get a first glimpse at Cuba through Zach Lewis's well-trained eyes.More
"My first days in Santiago, I didn't have internet, I had no idea where I was going. This guy heard me speaking English to someone on the street and he approached me. He had the best English of anyone I'd met in Cuba. We talked for a bit and I shot some photographs of him and we parted ways. The next morning, I went back to find him and hired him as a guide for the day. He was really eager and took me to a lot of places on the outskirts of Santiago that I never would have ended up at on my own. The photograph that he's showing me here is of him as a child in elementary school. This is his report card and he carries it around with him."
"It was probably three or four o'clock and I had been on the street in Santiago since 8 a.m. I was in the middle of nowhere, walking in this neighborhood, and I turned and saw that there was a group of kids in the middle of the street. They stopped what they were doing and we had this exchange. They could not believe that they were meeting a guy from New York with a camera. One of the oldest kids asked me where I was from, and I'll never forget his response: 'Is New York very beautiful? Does the food taste good there?' I found that to be a little heartbreaking. This is a shot of one of the boys from that group."