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‘Time on the street’: An intimate view of Havana

John Comino-James first made the journey from Oxfordshire, England, to Cuba in 2002 to meet the man his daughter would eventually marry.

It was his first visit to the Caribbean island, but something about it touched him on an emotional level and he has been going back ever since.

“It would be easy to say that it’s the people, the culture, the architecture,” Comino-James says, “but the emotional pull really lies in two things: The first is that in my own way I am exploring and recording something of my grandchildren’s Cuban heritage, and the second rests with the friendships I have made over the years.”

Comino-James has been back more than 20 times since that first experience and published two books of photography focusing on Havana. His third, Havana: Intimations of Departure” is being published this month by Dewi Lewis Publishing.

“I think it’s true to say that all my photography has come out of a prolonged relationship with place or a particular culture,” he says.

Comino-James says he believes deeply in the investment of time in a project. He says “time on the street, miles under the feet,” are the most important things in getting to know a people and place while building a body of work.

His first Cuban book focused on one neighborhood in Havana, Cayo Hueso. The second told the story of a single street, the Calzada del Diez de Octubre. With “Intimations,” Comino-James explores the visual experiences and connections the photographer has made during his time in Havana.

“I conceived an arrangement of images in sections akin to the movements in a piece of music,” he says. “All related to each other but each conveying a different feeling and at a different tempo. “

Arranged in six distinct sections, Comino-James’ black-and-white panoramic images offer a street-level view of life in Havana. Recorded in his images is the energy of the place, the character of its people and feel of its culture.

Comino-James uses the technique of pairing images to communicate his message. In the third section, which appears here, he physically stacks one panoramic image on top of another as a way of “opening up the kind of street level view.”

In the final section, Comino-James turns his camera to the idea of Havana being presented and sold as a tourist destination and mere photo opportunity.

“The tourist industry seems often to suggest that the time to visit Havana is ‘now, before it changes,’” he says. “In reality daily life is really tough for most habaneros, yet it is this that would-be visitors are encouraged to ‘take in’ before it changes.”

- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN