This is the true Cuba: portraits so honest, shocking and yet beautiful

the true cuba portraits so honest shocking and yet beautiful

When people return from a Cuba vacation, they often have the same photos in their luggage: American vintage cars in bright colors, locals puffing with a big cigar waitingto get photographed or the famous Malecón, the stone wall which protects the city against the sea. Quite soon one gets tired of these clichés.

“Cuba is a dream for every photographer,” says photographer Volker Figueredo Véliz. “Anyone who comes to Cuba probably takes the best photos of his life, but after two weeks of vacation, everyone probably took the same pictures as tens of thousands of photographers before him.” He also could not see the typical pictures anymore. “At some point I had the feeling that I had already taken all possible Cuba photos.” So he searched for authentic motifs on the streets of Havana – and found the soul of Cuba.


Between Germany and Cuba

“I have been traveling to Cuba since 2004. In the beginning my travels were rather irregular, but for almost four years now I live mostly in Havana,” says the photographer. The former employee of an IT company is now enjoying his retirement there.
The more he traveled to the country, the more he learned to speak Spanish. “More precisely, I learned the language of the street,” he says. “The Cubans love to get in contact with them, and when an ‘extrañero’ [a stranger] speaks their language, they can quickly win their hearts.”

How connected Volker Figueredo Véliz is with the country and the people in the meantime, you can also tell by his last name. A few years ago, he hitchhiked a student who was on her way to Santiago de Cuba University and fell in love. Two months later, the two married. The photographer then took the last name of his wife.

Taking pictures without unnecessary ballast

“I stayed in Havana for a long time in February 2014 because I had not booked a return flight to Germany and every day I roamed the streets of Havana, sometimes 15 kilometers.” On his excursions through the city, he took less and less his complete photographic equipment. A Leica-M and a 35mm lens were enough for him at some point. “Zooming in from a distance was no longer possible, I had to get close and physically overcome the distance to the protagonists with my camera,” says the photographer and can only recommend this step: “My photos have therefore become ever more lively – and with it better too. ”

Only few photographers are as close to the Cubans as Volker Figueredo Véliz. This did not go unnoticed for long. “At one point, an American from San Antonio, Texas, wrote to me that he had discovered my photos on the internet and wanted to learn from me how to take such great photos,” he says. They met in Havana. “I showed him ‘my Cuba’ and revealed to him ways to photograph a Cuba that few photographers had seen before him.”

On his website he now offers photo tours through Havana for photographers who want to discover the true Cuba.

You can also find more pictures of Volker Figueredo Véliz in our VIEW photo community.


Volker Figueredo Véliz tells: „This lady offered me deal. A so- called win-win situation! As a Cuban she could – of course with my money, buy a house in Havana. When we would be married then, the house would also belong to me. But at the end I refused her offer.“


„When you walk through the streets of Havana you quite often encounter people all dressed in white. They practice the Santeria cult, the most famous Afro-Cuban religion brought from Africa by slaves hundreds of years ago. Normally they are not allowed to get photographed as they believe their soul would be captured then. If you take a closer look at the photo you can see that sometimes a little money might help forgetting the religion for a while “


„Virginia Gonzales is 97 years old and originally comes from Martinique. She speaks five languages – fluently! In younger years she was the „directora“ of the „Trova Sindo Garay“ in Havana. I have visited her several times in her rotten home in Havana and gave her some pictures as a gift.


„When I strolled through Ol-Havana at the beginning of 2014, this woman invited me into her home where her brother destilled Vodka – Illegally of course. They allowed me to take some pictures and I gave them a package of cigarettes as a gift. Despite their poverty we also had funny moments together“


„During my early times in Havana I intended to take a photo of this lady in front of a Che Guevara wall painting. A typical cliché photo from my early times in Cuba. But as the baby became restless, her mother told me that she first had to feed the baby before we could continue. I captured this photo during the „breast-feeding break“ that we had. At the end it became one of my favorites.“


„Old Smokey: I captured this photo 2009 in Bayamo, Cuba.“


„I took this photo two years ago in a backroom in Havana. Most Cubans are very friendly and have no problem if I ask them allowing me to enter their home. And if you speak a little Spanish this helps much“


„I took this photo titled “Inspired by Rembrandt“ in a house in Havana Centro where I got invited during my walks through the city. The older man (he is probably much younger than I am) showed me his impressive empty bottles collection“


„I know this ruin since many years but I did not know that this is a former monestary. One day I saw this man – his name is Tomas – removing the garbage inside and talked to him. He told me about the past of this building.“


„The Santeria-religion is a mixture between African cults and christian believ. This photo shows a woman from Santiago de Cuba on her pilgrimage to El Rinón, Cuba.“
 – 31st December 2017
Photos with LEICA M Camera © Volker Figueredo Véliz, Text by Denise Fernholz (
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