Photoessay: A little Cuban architecture

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La Fabrica.

Havana’s buildings are a mix of a bit of everything: colonial spanish, modern, neoclassical, Soviet brutalist concrete and a whole bunch of other things I can’t even begin to identify. All I know is that the visual contrasts are extreme, and the range of textures quite sublime – especially in that wonderfully strong and directional Caribbean light. How could I resist photographing the buildings – more than the cars?

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For the glorified playing of sports

Just like the cars, the buildings tell the combined history of the people of Cuba: a fort for defence during times of piracy; the faded elegance speaks of a capital that echoed old Europe; decaying shacks and sad facades hiding crumbling interiors speak of decay and the fall of the baroque and extravagant following socialism. Depressingly monochromatic yet functional blocks follow, most still in use and minimally maintained and not at all adorned – they were designed not to require either, in a kind of eschewment of any sort of unnecessary excess. The ‘modern’ Havana is made up of a mix of restored Old World, mostly for the benefit of the tourists – the locals cannot afford to live here; a tiny sliver of the glass and steel that’s taken over and anonymised every other country’s capitals, and more often than not, little hints of hope in the form of colour splashed on old structures that have been made to ‘make do’. How do you move forward without compromising authenticity? That’s a question that Havana’s historical restorers, city planners and people to answer. MT

This series was shot with a Ricoh GR, Nikon D800E, 70-200/4 VR and Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus.

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Irregular openness

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Soda Obispo

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Green, I

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Trying to keep a happy face

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The fort

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Pick any year before 1960

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Stairs, I

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Stairs, II

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Stairs, III

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Garden of earthly delights

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Monochrome concrete masterpiece

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Beyond finished

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Committee por la Defencia de la Revolucion

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Green, II

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Moving into the modern age

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Even heroes fall

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Under attack


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Whate metering and focus settings are you using on GR?

  2. Great set.! Stairs I & II, The fort and Trying to keep a happy face remind me of India actually. If you were to show me just those images with no title and no other accompanying information, I would’ve sworn it’s India. An interesting glimpse into how our perceptions are heavily biased by our experiences.

  3. Out of interest, where is that pool? is it at the Hemingway Marina?

  4. Reblogged this on Hello world!.

  5. Hello Ming, beautiful pictures.
    There’s one thing I wonder about: It seems you used mainly Nikon 800E and Ricoh GR.
    Some time ago you were quite positive about Olympus OMD – do you still use it? Did you change your mind?
    I am asking because I’m thinking about buying one myself…

  6. Love Cuba…thanks for your post.

  7. Reblogged this on Cool Stufff and commented:
    An incredible, colourful insight into Cuban Architecture – we have a post coming up soon with more wonderful Architecture work Like on Facebook

  8. Thanks for being there..showing cuba from your eves 🙂

  9. What always amazes me is the eyes you are gifted with. How you see.

    Following your Flickr stream actually never leaves me without an idea what your vision was about each image. Each image stands alone without further argumentation. It is however an enrichment often seeing the same images put into context by your stories as told here. It is the concistency in the style (and you master many), look and often moods the images leaves behind that makes you essays strong and meaningfull. They make me stop up and think.

  10. Wow, I love this set. For some reason that I can’t articulate, this feels different than your usual architecture stuff. It’s still you, but there is a different look and perspective (ie. creative perspective not photographic) to this set. I see it most in Under Attack, but that’s only the most obvious one as it’s in the other pictures. One to ponder I think …

    • Thanks Andre. It’s probably because they’re all shot with a much longer or wider perspective than usual, and usual with some dominant foreground rather than subject-only…

  11. Wonderful set Ming! I am not sure how I missed some of these in your photostream… 🙂 Really like the first one and recognize it from the Monochrome Masterclass. Also really like Irregular openness, stairs, 1 and green, 1. Along with all of the others…

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