During my Semester at Sea, one of the primary projects I worked on in port was rebooting my series of photographs of community and urban gardens, which I call Post-Industrial Edens. I'm going to break my posts on these photos into two parts, the first on Cuba's organopónicos and, coming soon, a post on Europe's allotment gardens.
Cuba has a particularly fascinating slow food movement. At the heart of this is what are called organopónicos. These are organic gardens that developed in response to the collapse of the USSR and with it, the financial aid, machine parts, and fertilizers disappearing from Cuba. In part due to the isolation caused by the US Embargo, finding alternative sources wasn't easy. When mechanized farming collapsed in the early 1990's, Cuba went through a period called the "Special Period." Organopónicos are just one of the creative solutions that developed during the special period. I've got more details on the history of these gardens here.
I photographed the gardens back in 2006 and again in 2007. But after that I took a seven year break from Cuba, which is a pity because that gardens are so interesting and gorgeous. It was great to go back and photograph them again (and see old friends) after so much time away. And it left me craving a more substantial trip to the island.
Still, it was an incredibly productive four days. The gardens are still going strong, though I've changed quite a bit as a photographer since then... photographing things that I would've probably thought of as 'too picturesque' last time I was in Cuba.
The gardens provide a playground for formally constructing a picture. A lot of the photographs I took in Cuba used classic perspective... But balancing that perspective with little gems within the frame: plants, planters, and classic automobiles, in this case:
I put another classic car in this shot, though the gardener has quite a different attitude. Actually, he was in the process of restoring the car... I love the poster of Raúl in the foreground. The two small posters above the car are similar, one with Fidel and the other with Che. I love all the machismo in this garden:
But not this one... A blustery afternoon, with a little calf:
Below, the "Area de Lombricultura" in this picture is for propagating worms... With all the banana trees around it, it seems a bit like worm paradise to me.
I call this image 'the cleansing pool' and it seems like another little slice of paradise in an organopónico:
Each organopónico is required to grow a certain quota of food. But beyond that quota, the gardeners sell the extra out of little windows like this one:
Or this one... not sure which makes me smile, the incredible tree trunk or the incredible advertising:
Another image with scatter and perspective, inspired by John McKee
Harvest time... And maybe I need to tone down my greens a bit, they weren't quite this dayglo, but they were really bright:
The garden below was actually on a military base, that somehow I got permission to photograph... I think I might be one of the few American citizens to have been welcomed onto a Cuban military base. It was amazing to see the young guys spending their time in service growing vegetables. Unfortunately they weren't willing to be photographed:
I like this one too:
But I'm not sure about these two, I need to spend a bit more time thinking about their context:
More gardens coming soon, next time from Europe!