Kathie Carpenter thinks she got to Cuba at just the right time.
Carpenter and three friends were in a group that traveled in October 2015. She said people who have traveled subsequently told her the island was “overrun with tourists.” The four artists will give a talk, “Cuba in Transition,” at Twisted Fish Gallery May 25 as part of the “Havana 2015” exhibit.
Carpenter, Kathy Silbernagel, Emmy Holman and Babs Young saw a calmer side of Havana, full of smiles, sunshine and invitations to coffee.
The three photographers and one writer are exhibiting their discoveries in “Havana 2015″ in the Cottage Gallery through May 28. The gallery is a mile south of Elk Rapids, 10443 S. Bayshore Drive.
Twisted Fish Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Carpenter has a hard time narrowing her experiences down to a favorite moment, but says an older woman’s invitation to come inside for coffee was heartwarming. “I never got any coffee,” she laughs, but she did go into the woman’s home with a visiting grandson who spoke English. She also loved visiting the tobacco-growing region of Vinales and watching cigars being made.
Silbernagel, who has close to 30 images in the exhibition, appreciates that the group wasn’t there as tourists, but as photographers. That allowed the women to talk to everyday Cubans, whom they found to be friendly and joyful — and inviting.
“If you look in the faces of the people we photographed, you’ll see the joy and the openness of the people. I expected the people to be a little less open themselves, perhaps reflecting the perception of Cuba as governed as a closed society, but it’s exactly the opposite,” Silbernagel says.
The photos the group took not only capture the culture and people, but help break down stereotypes and some preconceived notions people outside of Cuba may have. Holman, the writer, crafted short narratives about life in Cuba and some of the people photographed.
Even though the women expected challenges while exploring the island, there were very few people who didn’t want to be photographed, Carpenter says. There were no official restrictions and the group spent their days wandering Havana — and later Vinales — meeting professionals, families, children, farmers and laborers. They stayed in a four-story, art-filled Art Deco house with warm water and air-conditioning and felt safe walking around even after dark.
The four artists didn’t stick with each other during the trip; they’d often split up in the morning and reconvene mid-day, then head out again until dark. Some of their pictures are landscapes, something Babs Young was always drawn to.
“I’ve always enjoyed photographing Northern Michigan and tended to not put people in my photographs,” she says. “I wait for the people to leave to take my picture and I am in love with the photos I took in Cuba. I am over the top with them.”