Peter Turnley is a renowned photojournalist who has been creating memorable images for more than four decades. Turnley has photographed monumental moments of historic change and revolution including the Gulf War, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya, the fall of the Berlin Wall, revolutions in Eastern Europe, Tiananmen Square, the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and many world leaders including President Barack Obama.
Peter talks to us about his latest book Cuba-A Grace of Spirit on sale now. We previously interviewed Peter about his very popular last book French Kiss-A Love Letter to Paris.
Q: Your book Cuba – A Grace of Spirit features images from the past 30 years of life in Cuba. When did you first travel to Cuba and for what purpose?
A: My first trip to Cuba was in April of 1989 when I accompanied Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev who was on a state visit to see Fidel Castro. Ever since this first trip 27 years ago, I have returned regularly, and I have made more than 20 trips to Havana in these past four years.
Q: How would you characterize the images in this new book?
A: I have a deep love for the people of Cuba. Over these past four decades of my career as an international photojournalist, I have tried to be present as often as possible where history and geo-political change was taking place. My barometer told me four years ago that one of the most important places in the world where change was going to take place was in Cuba. The one constant that I have always witnessed in Cuba that transcends change and politics has been the incredible vibrant, joyful, resilient, courageous, and elegant spirit of the Cuban people. This book is a visual testament to this spirit. Each photograph in this book has been chosen because it goes beyond the stereotypes of Cuban life as a photo opportunity, and reflects the spirit and the soul of the amazing people of this beautiful country.
Photography has for me always been first and foremost about sharing moments of life that I choose to frame that represent feelings, perceptions, and observations about the world around me. The verb to share is one of the most beautiful words in the human vocabulary. Implicit in the act of sharing is a notion of love. Whether we are sharing a discussion and dialogue about moments we admire or moments we dislike, the desire to enter into this visual conversation is rooted in a passion for life and all of its potential.
I approach life with the feeling that, somehow, everyone I encounter, anywhere and everywhere, is in one way or another part of my family, the family of humanity. I was born in the United States but have spent more than half of my life living in Paris and have traveled worldwide to over ninety countries, with the interest of documenting the world of my time in all of its variety. Each time I have visited Cuba, the heartfelt expression of life I witness everywhere reminds me of what a beautiful family of men and women we are all a part of.
For more than three decades I’ve strived to be present worldwide in places where history is 
being made. This is without a doubt a very important moment in the history of the life of Cuba. My strongest hope is that change and the evolving history of this unique and amazing island and country will be as kind to the people of Cuba as they have always been to me. The people of Cuba have taught and demonstrated to me so many beautiful lessons of how life can be lived well. This book is a visual tribute with love to the grace of spirit of the people of Cuba.

Q: Cuba is a country of people with not only great spirit, but also of wonderful music, and dance. Can you tell us more about the music video you have made that communicates much of what one will find within the pages of your new book Cuba – A Grace of Spirit.
A: I would be delighted for your readers to take a look at this video, which can be seen here.
Q: What do you think these images say about the spirit of the Cuban people?
A: Cuba – A Grace of Spirit is my form of a love letter to the Cuban people for everything they have taught me about living life collectively as a community, with particular attention given to everything that is not material, spirit, sensuality, perseverance, joy, movement,  music, dance heart, love for friends, family, country, and life itself.

Q: What, if anything, does the title Cuba – A Grace of Spirit mean?
A: I have been a form of a gypsy now over these past many decades, in constant movement, and travel to over 90 countries in the world. There is nothing more wonderful than having the sensation in the midst of travel that one has learned from the people one encounters, important lessons about living life. Cuba – A Grace of Spirit is a visual testament to all that I have seen and witnessed among the people of Cuba, that offers me a guiding light related to the grace of existence and living life.
Q: Over your many trips to Cuba, how would you say the country has changed or evolved?
A: While it has been very newsworthy during this past year that relations between the United States and Cuba have begun to open up and evolve, I had already noticed significant change these past five years. Little by little there has been a move within the economy and society of Cuban life of much more free enterprise and small business opportunity. It has become also much more frequent to hear Cubans express publicly their personal views of Cuban life when these views are both positive and critical. But, one constant among any change I’ve noticed is a constant vibrant spirit of the Cuban people – a profound love of life, a profound pride of being Cuban, and an overall pride for certain national institutions such as healthcare and education, and a love for themes of life touching on sports, music, dance, the arts, romance, family, friendship, and a respect and interest in the history and culture of Cuba.

Q: What was your goal for publishing this book and do you think you achieved it?
A: I am very proud of Cuba – A Grace of Spirit. I have been gratified that the Cubans who have seen my photographs indicate that they feel I have made a profound connection with the realties of their society, and have a distinct sense of my love of Cuba and the Cuban people. The most important museum in Cuba, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes of Havana, is offering me a major retrospective of my life’s photographs opening on Nov. 13, 2015 to be called Momentos de la Condicion Humana. I will be the first American artist of any kind to receive a major exhibition at Cuba’s most important museum since the revolution. This honor touches my heart deeply as it is a reflection of an important appreciation of my photography by the people of Cuba themselves.
Q: What do you hope viewers take away after they have looked at the images in Cuba – A Grace of Spirit?
A: I have spent my life documenting the human condition of our family of men and women.
I still believe that photography and visual storytelling can help bring people together worldwide by helping them identify with each other’s common humanity. The people of Cuba are wonderful people, and it is my hope that this book will open the eyes and hearts of readers to a people and society and country that has touched me deeply.

Q: These images are captured in vibrant color, unlike the black-and-white images in French Kiss: A Love Letter to Paris. What about Cuba lends itself for shooting in color?
A: My ultimate choice of deciding to photograph in black-and-white or color is an instinctive decision-like many things. I respond to what touches my heart. I have always simply seen Paris in black-and-white, in a wide array of tones of grey and this reflects well for me the beauty and soul of this wonderful city. The morning and late afternoon light of Cuba is so full of the atmosphere and warmth. Cuban people live life with flare, and the heart of this country is like a rainbow. I see Cuba in color.
Q: Did you face any photographic challenges during your trips to Cuba? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
A: I have never encountered any serious difficulties photographing in Cuba. It has been my experience that if you are willing to look people in the eye with a smile, Cubans pick up immediately on positive intent, and are extremely generous and open to reveal themselves with pride.
Q: What camera equipment did you use for these images and why?
A: I have used many different cameras over the years. Most recently I have been using the Leica M 240 and have been delighted at the beautiful tonal range of the files created by this camera, and its quintessential Leica elegance. The camera is quiet and discrete, and fits in extremely well with photographing daily life in Cuba.

Q: Where do you see the future of Cuba headed?
A: I feel very positive and hopeful for the future of Cuba. I think that Cubans are quite open to change, and are also quite proud of their history.  I also believe that the rest of the world has as much to learn from the Cuban people about living with a strong sense of community.
Q: Do you have plans to continue your photographic work in Cuba?
A: Yes!  Aside from my own photographic expression of life in Cuba, I lead many one-week street photography workshops in Cuba — I have four planned already for this coming year. Like my photographic documentation of Paris, I will likely continue to photograph Cuba for the rest of my life, and certainly plan to return there often.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or plans that you’d like to share with the Leica Blog readers?
A: For the past four decades I have been a traveler and an observer. I love stories and story telling. I lead many photography workshops worldwide, in Cuba, New York, Paris, Venice, Sicily, and elsewhere. I love the experience of basking in the joy of photography with a group of likewise passionate people.
Cuba– A Grace of Spirit is my seventh book, and now the second book I have self-published.  I will likely continue to publish a new book every two years for the rest of my life. While working for magazines like Newsweek, where I was published on 43 covers, it was a powerful feeling to wake up on a Monday morning knowing millions of people were seeing an image I made with the end of my finger and my heart. Today, in this digital age, I embrace the ability, through social media, email, blogs, and online publications, to share moments with others quickly and widely. I post a photograph and a story on Facebook every day. I love the opportunity that we have today to create and stay connected to a large community of people that can follow our life story closely and in an on-going way.  I also am proud that people collect signed traditional silver gelatin prints of my photographs worldwide. Knowing that my images live on walls worldwide, gives me much joy.
Q: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, one of Cuba’s most important museums is offering a retrospective exhibition of your work, correct? Can you provide more information on this exhibit and what it means to you?
A: Photography has always been first and foremost, about sharing moments of life that I choose to frame, that represent feelings, perceptions, and observations about the world around me. Wherever I have been, I have always approached life with the feeling that, somehow, everyone I encounter, anywhere, and everywhere, is in one way or another part of my family. My eyes and, more importantly, my heart have seen and felt life in its most difficult conditions, as well as moments where existence is being lived with its most poetic and beautiful potential. I have been interested in every aspect of the human experience with the idea that all life, at its extreme edges, is part of what living is all about.  I have tried to use the camera to shout loudly against oppression, inequality, and despairing human conditions, with the hope that a photograph could offer a voice to people whose voices go unheard. I have also spent much time trying to affirm through visual communication, all that has crossed my path that represents what life can be all about at it’s best, full of love, hope, poetry, and opportunity.
It is one of my life’s greatest honors to have my photographs, Momentos de la Condicion Humana exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba, opening on Nov. 13, 2015. I have been traveling regularly to Cuba since 1989. Of all of the travels I have made in my lifetime, rarely have I been to a place where I witness so much grace, spirit and dignity. I am very grateful for this opportunity to share the documentation of my life’s experiences.

Q: Do you have a favorite image from this work? If so, which one and why?
A: The retrospective exhibition that will open at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana on November 13, 2015 consists of 130 photographs, from four decades and over ninety countries. Each image in the exhibit has important meaning for me. Our world could only be better if empathy and compassion were among our most prominent and collective instincts worldwide. I have photographed now since 1984 the plight of refugees worldwide. At this moment in world history when there are more people involved in mass migration then at any time since World War II, it seems to me that our collective compassion for so many displaced people is essential. In response to this question of a favorite image, while not necessarily my favorite, my mind goes directly to an image I made on the border between Kosovo and Albania in 1999, of a mother and her two children who found themselves overnight to be refugees of war.
Thank you for your time, Peter!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Peter on his website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Learn more about his workshops here.