La Mojito : Cuba the Shangri-La
I was looking for Shangri-La on earth. Every time I encountered a scene that made me want to turn my eyes away, I would become skeptical and think nothing like that could possibly exist. Despite my doubt, the idea came to me that Cuba, the island nation in the middle of the Caribbean Sea might be close to such existence. I had a special feeling about the country that had kept its distance from the rest of the world for a long time. What I saw when I flew there, was true Shangri-La. The sky is blue, as is the Caribbean Sea. They have song and dance, liquors and cigars. Sunny smiling faces greet you on the street.
My usual work takes me to troubled areas in Africa and the Middle East. On these locations, my priority is to get across the thoughts and feelings and the reality of the people struggling to survive. My job as a photographer involves extracting a message from the subject to obtain a picture that has something to say. In Cuba, in contrast, I employed an approach of receiving the atmosphere surrounding each subject. I made an effort to be like the air myself as I positioned my camera. Conveying the atmosphere of a place turned out to be the most important and challenging endeavor for me.
Through this work, I realized that Shangri-La that I was looking for was not a place I had to travel far to reach. It existed inside my heart all along. It was right next to me, just a consciousness away no matter where I was. The year 2015 marked a major turning point for Cuba. Normalization of the diplomatic relations with the U.S. after half a century of isolation will surely bring significant developments to the island long left behind the times under a socialist regime. I will be watching the land of Shangri-La through the changes.