John Fago

Artist's Statement

You have to be a bit mad (or perhaps raised by artists) to make a habit of being an independent photographer. It's a job with no description, no boss to blame other than yourself, no particular assignment, no expense account or reliable lodging. Drawn by a moment, place or culture, I scrape up the necessary bucks and go there with a bunch of film and at least one Leica. 

Old Havana during 1992 was at the height of the so-called "Special Period" during which Cuba was caught between the evaporation of Soviet support, an ongoing US trade embargo, and before Hugo Chavez. Despite the ideals of José Marti, Cuba had become a dictatorship and there was much that was amiss. Things we take for granted like gasoline, prescription drugs, detergent and food were scarcer than money but in this beautifully rough-around-the-edges city of two million people with virtually no homelessness, free healthcare, excellent education and hardly any pollution. Music and art flourished and it may have been the least polluted city of its size on the planet--a pedestrian paradise with few cars, many bicycles and an occasional bus that always seemed packed. Materially speaking, people were poor but their culture was rich, and those I met were friendly to a foreigner like me. 

Like Sumner Matteson, Walker Evans and others, I was drawn to this dear neighbor, familiar yet exotic. I found friends and felt safe, happy and strangely at home in this place where an American was not supposed to be.  jf