James Clifford Kent is a London-based photographer who lectures on visual culture at Royal Holloway, University of London. He explores ways of telling stories about people using portraiture and social documentary. Over the past two decades, he has travelled regularly to Cuba for photographic projects, with his work being published internationally.

Black and white image of a boy laughing towards the camera with eyes closed while rain pours down on him.
A boy during an aguacero, Havana, Cuba, 2023


How did your relationship with photographing Cuba begin?

I began thinking seriously about photography after returning from my first trip to Cuba in 2001. I studied photobooks and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Photographs by Walker Evans, David Bailey and Don McCullin had a major influence on the early development of my creative practice. I returned to the island for a year to teach at the University of Havana, walking the streets for hours with my camera after classes. I got to know residents in the local barrios and fell further in love with the city, later covering historic events such as revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s funeral procession in 2016.

What motivates your passion for photographing Cuba and Cuban communities?

Cuba is seen as a mecca for filmmakers and photographers. The Caribbean’s largest island is renowned as a photogenic destination, with travellers flocking there to take pictures of vintage cars, colonial architecture, and cigar-smoking habaneros. But I’ve always been interested in digging deeper and exploring a Cuba that typically doesn’t get portrayed in the mainstream media. My latest project documents people living on the margins of society. I wanted to capture how ever-resourceful Cubans struggle to put food on the table, keeping their heads above water during its deepest economic crisis to date.

What does your history and experience with Leica cameras look like?

 I bought a Leica M6 about 10 years ago and take it with me everywhere. It’s a reliable, compact, and versatile camera that has accompanied me on many Cuban adventures. Local artists have a lot of respect for Leica because several important historical photos of the island were taken using M-System cameras. Cuban photographer Alberto Korda shot his iconic portrait of Che Guevara in 1960 using a Leica M2 with a 90mm lens and a roll of Kodak Plus-X.

Which Leica cameras and lenses were your go-to for this series, and why?

I’ve used a range of Leica cameras for my current project, including the M6, M11 and Q2. Each of these are suited to the work I do on the island, and I’ve switched between them when capturing different types of pictures. The discreet characteristics of these cameras with their quiet mechanical shutters, typically used in combination with compact Summicron-M and Summilux-M 28/35mm lenses, allow me to work in a less intrusive way, especially when documenting people’s living spaces and shooting portraits. This enables me to work quietly and respectfully in challenging conditions and helps me to listen to people telling their stories without equipment intruding. Developing this type of connection is important when you’re trying to create images that capture people’s attention and ensure that underrepresented groups – from ex-cons to families living in makeshift accommodation – have their voices heard.

Children playing on the street, Centro Habana, Cuba, 2023


Do you have any go-to post-production techniques?

Since I started taking pictures, I’ve shot with Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X 400, so I always aspire to match the aesthetic, feel and tones of those films in my digital work. It helps create synergies between my various projects. I capture images in RAW, and then make subtle adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop. I also use a few different labs in London that support me with processing, post-production and printing my work. I enjoy the journey each photo takes me on when I return to the UK, and I like the way processing and scanning slows things down a bit. It allows time for reflection and conversations about stories I’m exploring in my projects and ultimately makes them more impactful.


See more of his work on Instagram here and on his website.