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Véronique Fel – Habana’s Old Cars


I had arrived the eve before, found a place to stay with locals. Come early morning I went out with my photo equipment into this unknown city, Habana, in order to get a feel for it and start to work on its portrait. I don’t speak Spanish. Unable to speak the language of a city obliges one to immerse oneself in its sounds, its smells, its colors and its street life, devoid of meaning of any words we can hear. One has to go back to the essentials of communication between beings in order to be understood. Gestures, facial expressions and smiles…

Before leaving Paris some friends had asked me, obviously, to photograph these old American cars in Cuba. Since they were imported decades ago, they appear, such as ornaments,  in hundreds and hundreds of pictures, taken in streets all across the country, and first and foremost, in the city of Habana. Google Images can testify to that. They’ve become unavoidable and universal, an emblem immortalized by all, by even the greatest names in photography.

I knew the exercise would be difficult. A “seasonal” piece as we call it. I also knew I had to get it done as fast as possible, as early as the first days. To liberate myself from it so that once the piece was done, my eye glued to the viewfinder, I could regain my creative freedom, carefree.

Two days of wandering the streets and nothing was coming. My few ten to fifteen pictures of the day seemed uninteresting and demoralizing to me. You know the writers fear of a blank page? On the third day, just a few meters from the room I was renting, my gaze finally rests upon something, on some lines far away at the end of a street. Its descending curve seemed to lead to the sea, still invisible from where I was.

I approached this vision one step at a time. One step at a time it gets bigger. One step at a time I felt my confidence coming back to me…. I had found my painting, the jewel setting in which I would wait for my “rolling models” to pass by as they pleased. In an hour and a half it would be noon! I would then tame this zenithal light that seems to paralyze time and where movement is immediate, pictorial.

In this spot, we had several encounters for the next two days. The old Americans and their unknown photographer, always at the same place, a few linear meters of the Malecón. Habana’s was dry and harsh come mid-day. Stationed on a sidewalk several meters from the road, standing precariously on a simple stone in order to see and have the seas’ blue line, essential to the setting of their portrait, I photographed them like nobody had before.


Exhibition : Quai Aimé Césaire 75001 Paris, through December 19th

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