Cuba, we are told, is changing. When President Obama visited the island in March this year, a lot was said and written about these changes. For many years Cuba has been an outpost of Communism right in America’s backyard, a cultural time capsule that was isolated from its immediate neighbours.
But the march of modernization cannot be stopped, and it is said that Cuba will soon not be the country it once was, in both good and bad ways. Photographer Adrian Morris, who works under the name Mowgli, recently spent a couple of weeks working in Cuba on assignment for Boat magazine, a travel publication that focuses on a different city each issue. Because the Cuba issue hasn’t been published yet, Adrian wasn’t able to discuss in detail the commissions he was working on for boat, but he could talk about Cuba and creativity more generally…
You travel a lot for your work – do you have a similar process whenever you first arrive in a new country?
I try and do a bit of research before I arrive, and then just discover the rest myself by getting lost and talking with local people in the streets. Being open to whatever happens has opened up lots of memorable experiences for me in the past.
What were your impressions of the country and how did they differ from (or confirm) what you thought it would be like? It’s interesting because Cuba has such a strong stereotypical image in everyone’s minds and I guess it is actually like that to an extent. There are old cars everywhere, people smoking cigars and rumba music playing in the streets. But also it is not exactly how you expect it to be either.
There are no influences from the big American corporations, so the way people live seems much more simple. For example, the fruit and vegetables they eat depends on the season.
I think it’s really unique to still be able to experience a culture that is so pure and unspoilt; it makes you realise a lot of things about the rest of the world. There is definitely more to Cuba than old cars, Buena Vista Social Club and cigars. It is such a positive and welcoming atmosphere.
Is it hard to shoot things that aren’t the stereotypical Cuba images? Yeah sometimes it feels that way. There are only so many photographs with old cars in them that you should take. But then because there are certain images that are such cliches, it makes it easier to know what not to take photos of.
Cuba is in the midst of a big change – did you get that sense when you were there? Do you think it will be a different place to photograph in say 12 months’ time? It’s hard to predict how long it will take for things to start changing, and I was only there for a few weeks. Public wifi for example was only introduced about six months before I arrived, but you wouldn’t know that now – everybody is connected and a lot of people own smartphones.
Who knows what can happen in another six months? I think the visual culture of Cuba is so strong though it will be more than 12 months for it to become a totally different place to photograph. But change is definitely coming and it’s kind of a shame because it is such a beautiful, unique place right now.
Finally, Adrian is a nice name. Why Mowgli? There is no real deep story! It is just because I used to have long shaggy hair and kind of looked like Mowgli from The Jungle Book. I am always hanging out with animals when I am travelling – there are so many photos of me hanging out with dogs in different countries. So the name Mowgli kind of came up and I’ve just rolled with it!