The omnipresent tension between the poor neighborhoods of the Cuban capital, as a result of political dictatorship, and the rich Afro-Cuban cultural roots of their inhabitants, whose wealth is represented by their music and feelings, is physically visible in Steve’s use of high contrast, a metaphoric touch on the subject of the light and darkness of the Afro-Cuban heritage. Although intentionally apolitical, the pictures speak volumes about the Cuban status quo and, appropriately, the eternal joy of living despite socio-political hardship.
The streets are peppered with ‘yank tanks’ also known as classic American cars, serving as both regal reminders of a time past and of the infamous American embargo. In 1962, USA effectively cut trade between the two countries, leaving Cubans without an option for spare parts, so yank-tanks are essentially mechanically assembled mosaics of American and Soviet vehicles. Elements of a larger, more complex infrastructure, cars live, perhaps not so quietly, among the occasional pull carts, carriages and the newer brands of vehicles, even though the latter are still far and few between.
Play, in and of itself a mode to survive the harsh reality, represents another subject Steve is keen on capturing. Whether it is adults playing dominoes, cards, musical instruments, or bands of kids flinging makeshift baseball bats, these activities are performed in communion, inadvertently ritualistic and therefore vital within the larger context of a tight-knit society. Children in particular hold a dear place in Steve’s vision of Cuba – they serve as symbols of idyllic purity and hope. The shimmery skin, the intense gaze, the sheer camaraderie and real belief in the momentous win, transfer to the viewer a strong feeling of reverie rarely found in urban photography. We are invited for a few minutes to contemplate children at play, a return to innocence again, where living is celebrated for one reason alone – that of simply being alive.