Whether he is photographing the rugged, soulful performance of a musician or the calm, everyday life of the Cuban people, Lorne Resnick strives to capture his own experiences and display them for the masses. Lorne’s work in Cuba: This Moment Exactly So, exudes his passion and love for the Cuban people. With the current growth of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, Lorne’s collection of photography is now more relevant than ever. Lorne perfectly captures the humanity of this country, and we decided to ask Lorne about his insights on Cuba. In this interview, Lorne reveals his passion for travel and photography, his experiences in Cuba, and the American perspective of this mysterious island.
1) You’ve visited Cuba countless times, and you seem to be very captivated with the country. What initially inspired you to visit Cuba, and why did you keep returning?
I first visited Cuba in the summer of ’95, attracted by the mystery, history, and photographic possibilities of the island. At that time, I was only a Canadian citizen (since 2000 I have dual citizenship) so it was easy to get in—I just went. That summer was—as most summers are when I have been in Cuba—searingly, intensely, wonderfully hot. My second day there, I went to a club called the Palacio de la Salsa at the Hotel Riviera on the Malecón, where a fifteen-piece Cuban orchestra of world-class musicians was playing to a jam-packed crowd of the best dancers on the planet. I was mesmerized. I was hypnotized. I was awe-struck. The sweat, the heat, the sensually glorious dancing, the (very loud) music, the electricity in the air. I planned to stay for two weeks and stayed for two months. I fell in love with the country. With its music, its people, its cars, its buildings, its sun, its stunning light, its friendships, and that special heat that is so uniquely Cuban.
Not only have I spent many peak moments of my life in Cuba over the last two decades, but in 2002, I asked my wife, Juliet, to marry me atop the lighthouse of Morro Castle in Havana. She said yes, we popped a bottle of champagne, and at that precise moment, the lighthouse keeper came out and told us we had to leave, as the lighthouse was closing. We shared our news and, with a (typically Cuban) joyous smile on his face, he said, “Congratulations! Listen, I have to go. Why don’t you enjoy the sunset and just lock up the castle when you leave?” With that, he was off, leaving us alone atop the lighthouse in a 425-year-old castle guarding the entrance to Havana. A surreal and sublime moment.
I came to Cuba initially for its history and mystique. But I kept coming back again and again for the people—for an endless string of experiences like the one atop the lighthouse. Warm, openhearted people embracing you and inviting you into their lives and hearts. It’s a heady, intoxicating combination for anyone—especially a photographer.
2) People in the US are not familiar with Cuba, except through a political lens. Were you surprised by anything when you first visited the country?
From the first day on the island in 1995, I think the thing that most surprised me was the Cubans’ attitude towards Americans. I kept on noticing how friendly they were to everyone. And I kept asking the Cubans, “Look, the US has an embargo against your country and because of that there is much hardship. Why, then, are you so friendly towards the Americans?” And they all said, “Because we know the difference between the American people and the American political system,” which I felt was a very sophisticated point of view.
I also immediately noticed how warm, open, and intelligent the Cubans I met were. They would engage you in deep conversations about many different things, very quickly.
3) What do you think are some things most Americans would be surprised to learn about Cuba?
This is a great and almost impossible question to answer, as there are so very many things the Americans do not know about Cuba and would be surprised at. I don’t even know where to start. For the last twelve years I have been doing travel photography workshops in Cuba, taking mostly Americans. So I am able to see things, for the first time, through their eyes.
A few things that come to mind immediately:
Operation Peter Pan
In the first years following the revolution and Fidel Castro’s seizure of power from Fulgencio Batista, fourteen thousand children left Cuba for the US under the auspices of the Catholic Welfare Bureau. They were relocated with relatives or placed in foster homes and orphanages. Operation Peter Pan, the exodus was called. Peter Pan kids, as they would come to be known.
Between December 26, 1960 and October 23, 1962, many Cuban youths traveled to Miami without their parents. Until early 1962, the children were required to have a visa and twenty-five dollars for airfare into the United States. Many family members already in the United States applied for visas and sent the necessary funds to relatives in Cuba. The US Embassy in Havana issued the necessary student visas. On January 3, 1962, the US Department of State announced that Cuban minors no longer needed visas to immigrate to the United States. Many Cubans believed that Castro’s time in power would be short-lived. They anticipated that minors in the United States would eventually rejoin their families in Cuba. Nearly half of the minors who arrived were reunited with family members, while a majority were placed in shelters managed by the Catholic Welfare Bureau.
By late 1960, Castro had expropriated several companies that made up the American Chamber of Commerce in Havana, including Esso Standard Oil Company and Freeport Sulfur Company. The leaders of these companies moved to Miami while they analyzed the actions of Cuba’s new government. Under the impression that Castro’s rule would be brief, they agreed to aid the Cuban children by providing funding for Operation Peter Pan. Through collaborations with Baker, these business leaders agreed to help secure donations from multiple US businesses and send them to Cuba. Because Castro was supervising all major monetary transactions, the businessmen were very careful in how the funds were transferred. Some donations were sent to the Catholic Welfare Bureau, and others were written out as checks to citizens living in Miami. These individuals then wrote checks out to the W. Henry Smith Travel Agency in Havana, which helped fund the children’s flights to the United States. It was necessary to send the funds in American currency because Castro had ruled that plane tickets could not be purchased with Cuban pesos.
As the need for shelters grew as the children arrived in increasing numbers, several prominent locations were converted to house them, including Camp Matecumbe, the Opa-locka Airport Marine barracks. Special homes, authorized by state officials and operated by Cuban refugees, were formed in several hundred cities across the nation, including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lincoln, Nebraska; Wilmington, Delaware; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida. Laws prevented any relocated children from being housed in reform schools or centers for juvenile delinquents. A large majority of the minors who arrived in Miami were between the ages of twelve and eighteen, and more than two-thirds were boys over the age of twelve. They were predominantly Catholic but of Protestant, Jewish, and non-practicing backgrounds as well. Most were children of the middle or lower classes. The minors were not made available for adoption.
Operation Peter Pan ended when all air traffic between the United States and Cuba ceased in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Cuban immigrants needed to travel via Spain or Mexico to reach the United States until December 1965, when the United States established a program of Freedom Flights to unite Cuban parents with their children.
The (free to anyone) Cuban medical system:
Cuba offers anyone (including Americans) a free, world-class medical education. In exchange the recipient must agree to spend some time in their original home town helping their own people with free medical aid.
Cuba has first-rate medical care, including cutting edge Parkinson’s and cancer treatments.
The US has tried to kill Fidel Castro more than six hundred times. There is a museum in Havana dedicated to the attempts.
Catch the second segment of this interview soon!