Jose Azel
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José Azel’s Cuba Cuba 1991 - Smoke break.  A farmer takes a moment to pause from his labours in a farm field. Cuba 1991 - A boy jumps into the sea from El Malecón. Cuba 1991 - Rowing a school girl across Havana Harbour in the early morning. Cuba 1991 - Two seniors sit, awaiting a band to play at a local dance. Cuba 1991 - The bell tower of a church in Trinidad. Cuba 1991 - A young ballerina stretches by the light of a window at Cuba's Nation Ballet Company studio. Cuba 1991 - An Afro-Cuban beat blares from the batá drums at a bembé, a ritual of music and prayer. Cuba 1991 - Near Camaguey a truck load of sugar cane cutters head out to the field for what is back breaking work. Cuba 1991 - Where Havana meets the sea, millions of waves have battered, El Malecón, a broad esplanade that runs 8 kilometers has endured for more than 100 years. Cuba 1991 - A Cuban cowboy trots across Viñales Valley with its conspicuous cliffs rising in the background. Cuba 1991 - The hand of a tobacco worker on a dried pallet of leafs. Cuba 1991 - Little has changed at the Tropicana Club, a world known cabaret, launched in 1939 at Villa Mina, a suburban estate with lush tropical gardens in Havana's Marianao neighbourhood. Cuba 1991 - Human forms, a bright flag and the hint of an era gone by mingle under the late afternoon sun in Havana. Cuba 1991 -  A family sits by the casket of their deceased relative at a velorio, a Cuban style wake for the dead, in the town of Holguin. Cuba 1991 - For uniformity and presentation, a cigar worker sorts cigars by colour at the Cohiba Cigar Company in Havana, Cuba.
National Geographic sent me to Cuba in 1991 just after the former Soviet Union left the island. Bill Garrett, then editor, accepted my proposal of a Cuban photojournalist heading back to the country he called home. I had left Cuba at the age of seven and had only been back for very short trips. For National Geographic I made three trips to my homeland, approximately one month each time. My travels, though always accompanied by government ‘minders’, became a journey of deep, personal discovery. I met my compañeros in the truest form of the word. The people are the heart of the country.  I had the privilege to smell the red earth of this tropical land, see the verdant hues of its famous tobacco fields and watch young boys play stick baseball on the streets of Havana, a game I played as a boy. Most of all, I explored from one end of the Island to the other and made pictures; Photographs that I love to look at more than 20 years later. From what I see other photographers shooting in Cuba today, not much has changed. The look and feel of this beautiful, but in many ways sad place, remains relatively unchanged. Romantically, I love this seemingly timeless quality, but I know better and yearn for change. An elderly woman picks out beans for cooking in San Pedro. MAY 2012 BACK ISSUE Back to current issue