Just over one year ago on 25 November 2016, leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro died at the age of 90 marking the end of an era. From 29 November to 3 December, the casket carrying his ashes traveled 900 kilometers to Santiago de Cuba. The convoy traced, in reverse, the route of the “Freedom Caravan” of January 1959, which saw Castro and his rebels take power. Italian photographer and World Press Photo winner Fulvio Bugani was there to shoot the following photo story with his Leica M10.
Fidel Castro lived to see 11 U.S. Presidents come and go, and survived more than 600 assassination attempts, as the legend goes, holding on to power longer than any other living head of state, except Queen Elizabeth II. He was perhaps the most important leader to emerge from Latin America since the wars of independence in the early 19th Century and became a towering international figure, whose importance in the 20th Century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people. At least 3 generations of Cubans have lived under his rule.
His revolution transformed Cuban society and had a longer-lasting impact throughout the region than that of any other Latin American insurrection of the 20th Century. His legacy in Cuba has been a mixed record of successes and failures in social progress, yet the standard of living for the majority of Cubans, especially in the field of education and healthcare, has improved considerably, when compared to conditions under the former government of Batista.
For better or for worse, Fidel occupied an important place in the lives of Cubans. “The vast majority of Cubans feel a personal connection with Fidel”, said political scientist Rafael Hernandez, director of the Cuban magazine Temas. That applies to “both those who support him, wholly or with reservations, and those who see him as the cause of all Cuba’s ills.”
Following his death, many questions hang over the future of Cuba. Even if President Raul Castro, who has been leading the country since 2008 when Fidel stepped down, has been a reformist, pushing pragmatically for slow but steady change, the people are looking for a new future. On the one hand, many Cubans feel devotion and gratitude towards their Lider Maximo, who has been a true father of his country, and now they are experiencing a sense of emptiness and uncertainty; on the other hand, they see the death of Fidel an opportunity to take a step towards a modern society that can offer more individual possibilities. Especially the younger generation is eager for a change, dreaming of all the glittering things that capitalism can offer.
Nobody should assume that without Fidel the revolutionary ideas, which are so deeply embedded into the fabric of society, would easily succumb to capitalism’s supposed “jewels”. The country will have to brace itself for a new challenge, finding a balance between modernity and living with Fidel’s legacy if it wants to keep true to its socialist ideals, despite the economic hardships that it is confronted with.
The new slogan “Yo soy Fidel” (I’m Fidel) is certainly the most prevalent feeling among the majority of Cubans and this is represents hope for those, who still believe in the revolution.
How did you get into photography and photojournalism in particular?
As a child I used to get excited when I looked at the family photo album. Through those images I recognized, not only the people I knew, but also the atmosphere of the time and it was that, which fascinated me. Looking at those albums, I realized that photography was something more than just a way to remember. It is a form of communication with tremendous power and a great emotional charge. This prompted me to deepen my knowledge and as soon as I finished high school I looked for a job in the field. I started working as a clerk in a camera store and I worked hard to find partnerships with professionals, who could teach me more about this art form. In 1999 I opened Foto Image, my own photo studio in Bologna.
For me, photography is a way of life. It’s not just a job or a passion. It is far more than that. Photography, and in particular photojournalism, is a means of communication, it’s a way to express and convey important messages, as well as to explore the world. Photography gives me the opportunity to come into contact with many different people and that expands my vision and understanding of the world. It is a way to be free.
What do you see as the role of photojournalism and the photojournalist in today’s media landscape?
Generally speaking, I think that photojournalism has an important role in shaping people’s view of the world. The photojournalist has a great responsibility because images can have a great impact on people. They communicate on an emotional level and can be very strong. I strongly believe that today photojournalism is not just about the answers but its role is to trigger questions and curiosity about an issue or a story.
How do you deal with the issue of objectivity as a photojournalist? And to what extent do your own beliefs and opinions influence your photography?
I’m an open-minded person. As a photojournalist my first interest is to document a situation, without judging. I always try to approach a story without prejudice but of course when I tell it, I always give my point of you. The important thing is to be honest with yourself, with your subject and, as a consequence, also with those who view your photos. Never falsify a situation.
How do you choose your projects and fund your work as a freelancer?
I work as a freelancer and I fund all my projects by myself. This means that I’m free to choose my stories and I always follow what interests me most, what grabs my attention. It is not always easy. Sometimes it necessitates hard life decisions. I’m simply obsessed with people and I love to discover different ways of life.
When was the first time you visited Cuba and how has your relationship to the country and its people evolved over time?
I first visited Cuba in 2003 for a trip around the island and I immediately felt a vibrant energy everywhere I went. It made me want to fully immerse myself in the place. I made Cuba my second home in order to have the opportunity to mix with the people, to let myself be carried away by the pulses of everyday life and to experience Cuban multi-ethnicity and cultural diversity first hand. I started shooting the material for my long-term project in Cuba in 2009 after my second trip to the Caribbean Island. I’ve truly fallen in love with the place, especially with the people I have met there, with their spirit, the atmosphere and the light. In my experience, the people of Cuba are the only population, which prioritizes the needs of others above their own interests. It is something that a lot of Western society has forgotten.
Cuba is a favorite destination for many photographers. Why do you think that is?
Probably for the atmosphere and the light. Often the light is what inspires photographers and what makes them decide to shoot or not in a particular situation. The people are also the real treasure of the island.
Which camera and lens did you use for this series? And what do you see as the advantages of using your set up?
The pictures I shot for this project where all taken with Leica M10 and I used a 28mm f/1.4 Summilux. Over the last 4 years, I have been using this kind of lens (28mm) exclusively because it best represents my view of the world. The Leica M10 is wonderful camera, which delivers outstanding image quality. It is solid and reliable, while the dimensions are quite compact and this is very important for my work. I need a small camera for the kind of reporting I usually do. Furthermore, the Leica M10 has good handling and all the main settings are close to hand, which makes it easy to adjust things quickly.
What advice would you offer to anyone starting out as a photojournalist?
First of all, if you want to be a photographer you need to study photography and never stop learning. Photography is a process of constant evolution and research. Furthermore, being a photojournalist requires a special attitude towards life and people. You have to be right there where things happen (as Thomas Hoepker said), you have to live with the people and share in their daily life. You have to be tough and have a certain degree of empathy. My advice is to find a story, which you are passionate about and fight for it. Never give up at the first obstacle because there will be many during your career.