In 2008, Jay Seldin began wandering around an island most Americans would never have even considered visiting.
The award-winning photographer captures Cuba on film and leads photo-tours focused on cultural exchange, and in doing this, has been welcomed into the homes of many Cuban families.
Now that the travel embargo between Cuba and the U.S. is being lifted, many Americans are scouring to find tour operators to take them there, as if this sort of change can happen overnight.
While you wait for this to fall into effect—or while you build up the courage to visit a country that has long been considered an enemy to America—Seldin’s new photography book, The Cubans, offers a rare glimpse inside this mysterious place.
For a view this authentic, you’ll have to book a tour with Seldin himself. But for now, get to know the Cuban culture through his revealing photos and insider knowledge to the nation.
Here’s a sneak peek at what he’s collected over years of travel in Cuba.
Paste Travel: As someone who’s developed close relationships with Cuban people, how do they feel about increasing tourism from the U.S.?
Jay Seldin: The Cubans I am in touch with are looking forward to the increase in American tourism. For the Cubans that are in the tourism trade and service trade, Americans are very generous. The opportunity to hear from Americans about what is happening in the world is very important to them, since most people in Cuba do not have access to the Internet. We are a source of information for them.
PT: What has surprised you most about the Cuban people?
JS: I would have to say their perseverance. The Cuban people are survivors and have such a great sense of family life.
PT: What is one thing that makes Cubans and Americans similar?
JS: I believe that the arts and creativity are one of the things that link Cubans and Americans.
PT: What is your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken in Cuba and why?
JS: I have a number a favorites relating to different situations that I’ve photographed. But here is one that’s high on my list. It’s titled “Waiting for Relatives,” Jose Marti Airport, Havana, Cuba. It’s high on my list of favorites because of its complexity. The image has so many faces with different emotions showing. Many Cubans come to the airport hoping to meet up with their relatives from the States. With little information as to when they are coming, they arrive and wait, and wait.
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Waiting for Relatives, Jose Marti Airport, Havana: "Waiting for relatives at the airport is a pretty common thing to do. Most people aren't even sure if their family members will be showing up from the U.S. that day. Communication between the U.S and Cuba is very difficult, even now."
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Street Posers with Two Cuban Men, Old Town, Havana: "Street posers are people who ask for money when you photograph them while they are working a crowd. Here they are taking a break."
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Crawl to the Church Steps, San Lázaro Church, Rincón: "During the Feast of San Lázaro on Dec. 17, people crawl to the church to ask for help from the saint to cure illnesses within their family."
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Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo, Old Town, Havana: "This is the famous boxing gym in Havana where three-time Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion Teofilo Stevenson trained."
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Rationbook, Havana: "Everyone has one of these for state food rations."
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May Day "Give Me Five!", Revolution Plaza, Vedado: "May 1 is Cuba's Workers' Day. This group is marching with a 'Give Me Five' poster, referencing the '5 Amigos' that were being held in United States jails, who the cubans wanted sent back home. They were returned the day that Obama and Castro signed their agreement."
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Martial Arts + Dance, Sports Complex, Havana: "A young boy practices his martial arts and dance routine at the sports area in Havana."
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Tobacco Farmer, Viñales: "A typical tobacco farmer in the countryside of Viñales."
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Santería Fortune Teller, Cathedral Plaza, Old Havana: "The women in white are religious people of the Yoruba faith. Fortune telling is how they make extra money."
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Life on Calle Genios, Close to the Malecón, Havana: "Inside a typical apartment along the waterfront."
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Apartment Balconies, Centro Havana: "Balconies like these are typical in Havana apartments."