All images by Frederic Saez. Used with permission.
Photographer Frederic Saez has been working on a project to show the world a side of Cuba that is not given very much attention. Rather, his project “Residents of Palacio de la Mortera” tries to bring to light a side of Cuba asphyxiated by the economic blockade since 1962 installed on the island.
“As the average salary in Cuba is $17 (US equivalent) I choose to build this work through an illustration of their habitat. Very far from the tourist sight.” says Frederic. He continued to all that in Havana, most of the buildings are in poor conditions. In fact, only a few building are renovated in the center of Havana.
When Frederic entered the building, he tells The Phoblographer in his introductory email that the atmosphere seemed very much like the movie “Blade Runner.” He describes an out of service elevator, electric cables hanging on the walls, rusted steel everywhere, no light in the stairwell. In fact, Frederic says that if one person has a television on, that person will leave the door open and the windows open for others to watch. The reality of life for people living in this over aged building .
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Frederic: Traveler at heart, I combine my early passion for images with trips throughout the globe. I’m a curious photographer and eager to discover the world from a different angle, so I approach my subjects with a constantly renewed emotion and curiosity. I consider myself a humanist by definition–so I naturally came to street photography with a particular appetite for black and white documentary.
Phoblographer: What attracted you to documentary work?
Frederic: Through my photographs and documentary approach, I explore the human condition to understand and testify with authenticity what is life’s being in its most beautiful and sometimes cruel ways. Through documentary I try to catch moments of simple life. I went to Mumbai, India early this year, documenting people’s lives. I have some photography projects in Iran in a close future. All these countries are in strategic transitions in their history, this is my interest.
Phoblographer: Considering that average wage in Cuba is the equivalent of around $17 US, what made you want to do this project?
Frederic: Life in the world is very unequal in the standard of living of the inhabitants. Cuba especially because of the embargo and one economy system which is inefficient to give standard living conditions to citizens. Then, I was curious to see how people live their daily lives especially in their home conditions which is an effective way to see the real living standards of a country.
Phoblographer: When you first started doing this project, what was your plan and goal? What were you trying to do and how were you trying to get the word out about the situations there in Cuba?
Frederic: Landing in Havana, my plan was to see the real life of Cuba’s people, but very far from tourist sights. Then, I prepared my trip by talking with people who went in Cuba before. I was focused on Centro Habana which is one of the most popular areas in the city.
Then, my goal was to be the modest witness of the daily life in the actual Cuba.
Phoblographer: Why the choice of the grainy, high contrast black and white imagery? How do the aesthetics help you get your story across?
Frederic: By choosing this grainy and high contrast rendering I would like to show the scenery as I felt when I came in this building. A kind of self shock! This building should be closed in most of European countries because of security. Can’t imagine living there in fact but this is the reality of some Cubans’ lives.
Phoblographer: When you went to go document this, did you feel scared at all? What were your feelings?
Frederic: Not at all! When in Havana, I used to walk in popular areas, this is my main interest and feelings in life. Meeting people in their daily living conditions. Then, entering in this building wasn’t scary. In fact, I was surprised by the atmosphere and I was pushed by an irreversible desire to explore upstairs.
I met people in the stairs, some in front of their apartment and discussed with some of them about what I was doing.
They were very friendly and said I could stay in the building. I tried to be discreet hiding myself in the scenery.