From colonialism to Soviet brutalism, Daniel Shea captures Havana's unique landscape

stadium in havana
We tasked renowned New York-based photographer Daniel Shea to capture Cuban creativity, ahead of Chanel's landmark Havana Cruise show
(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

On the eve of Chanel’s landmark Havana Cruise 2016 show, we dispatched New York photographer Daniel Shea to shoot a portfolio of the Cuban creatives who are driving the country’s new cultural revolution.

Here, Shea also shares his personal travel diary of the built and natural surrounds that inspired his first trip to a country that’s in the midst of a creative shake up, spearheaded by a new economic and social liberalism…

W*: What were your initial impressions of Havana?
DS: Driving in from the airport, the first thing I noticed was the architecture, which felt unique to the place and its various competing histories, including colonialism. The combination of historical preservation, ruin and the sprinkling of new construction creates the Havana density, plus the beautiful colours and strong, hot sunlight bathing everything. 

How did this evolve during your stay?
As I started walking around and shooting, I learned how friendly the city was. Strangers approached me sharing information about their city and their favourite places. I was reading about the town as I was there, and so much of my experience of a city comes through thinking about its architectural history, and I began to notice the different historical echoes and the embedded politics, from colonialism to Soviet brutalism. 

What did you find yourself mainly shooting?
Architecture, but also the local flora. As part of my assignment, I photographed local Cuban artists in their homes, so I didn't make many portraits as part of my travel dairy. I wanted to walk and think about the landscape of the city. 

What were you stylistically most taken aback by while shooting these portfolios for the W* September style issue?
A lot of the artists had their studios in buildings that were not previously industrial (like in New York), but primarily residential. They used bedrooms to stage various projects, almost like a gallery. It was a great way to experience their work, to have a discrete space for one or a small number of pieces, then move to a different room and see something else. And people's outdoor spaces seemed very important to them, and they were very beautiful, usually canopied and made for unwinding. 

Was there a time of day when the city felt most alive or any local rituals you found yourself adopting?
By far, dusk on the Malecón, as the day's heat settles and people walk, sit, and drink rum and coffee. It's very special. I always made sure to be out on the Malecón if I could at this time, at various points on the long stretch, drinking rum with new friends or solo.

stadium in havana

Shea shares his personal travel diary of the built and natural surrounds that inspired his first trip to a country that’s in the midst of a creative shake up, spearheaded by a new economic liberalism

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

old buildings in havana

The photographer explains his initial impressions. 'Driving in from the airport, the first thing I noticed was the architecture, which felt unique to the place and its various competing histories, including colonialism'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

historical preservation in havana

'... the combination of historical preservation, ruin and the sprinkling of new construction creates the Havana density,' he continues. 'Plus the beautiful colours and strong, hot sunlight bathing everything'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

man holding tiers

'As I started walking around and shooting, I learned how friendly the city was. Strangers approached me sharing information about their city and their favourite places'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

man has a tattoo in his chest

'I was reading about the town as I was there, and so much of my experience of a city comes through thinking about its architectural history, and I began to notice the different historical echoes and the embedded politics, from colonialism to Soviet brutalism'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

small trees in havana

Shea found himself mainly drawn to the city's architecture, but his eye was also attracted to its flora

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

wooden stands in havana

Asked what Shea was stylistically most taken aback by while shooting, he explains: 'A lot of the artists had their studios in buildings that were not previously industrial (like in New York), but primarily residential'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

a man and woman black and white picture

'... they used bedrooms to stage various projects, almost like a gallery. It was a great way to experience their work'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

outdoor spaces in havana

The photographer continues, 'People's outdoor spaces seemed very important to them, and they were very beautiful, usually canopied and made for unwinding'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

mom and child black and white picture

'I photographed local Cuban artists in their homes, so I didn't make many portraits as part of my travel dairy. I wanted to walk and think about the landscape of the city'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

paper board

W* asked, 'Was there a time of day when the city felt most alive and any local rituals you found yourself adopting?'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

plants in havana

Shea replied, 'By far, dusk on the Malecón, as the day's heat settles and people walk, sit, and drink rum and coffee. It's very special'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

houses in havana

'I always made sure to be out on the Malecón if I could at this time, at various points on the long stretch, drinking rum with new friends or solo'

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

woods

Chanel's will be the first major Western fashion show in Havana for a generation

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

havana landscape

Flick through our September issue (W*210) to meet the creatives populating this culturally evolving cityscape

(Image credit: Daniel Shea)

INFORMATION

For more information, visit Daniel Shea’s website (opens in new tab)