Susan Bank's Unvarnished View of Life in Havana

By David Schonauer   Sunday July 2, 2017

One day, Susan Bank  wants to enter the port of Havana by sea.

“Floating in on a ferry, passing El Morrow, or perhaps sailing in on a tall ship driven by my mariner sons,” writes the New Hampshire-based photographer.

Bank says she was a “snapshot shooter” until she became a committed photographer at age 60, after taking workshops with Mary Ellen Mark in Oaxaca, Mexico (in 1997 and 1998), and David Alan Harvey and Canstantine Manos in Havana (in 1999 and 2000, respectively). She went on to publish two monographs featuring work made in the Cuban city: 2009’s Cuba: Campo Adentro  and Piercing the Darkness, which won a 2016 Lucie Award and was selected by designer, educator, and blogger Elizabeth Avedon as one of the best photo books of 2016.

Her work from Piercing the Darkness was also named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 5  competition, and we feature it today.

“Piercing the Darkness  presents an unvarnished view of daily life in that mythical city of Havana,” Bank notes. Her black-and-white image were made over the course of 20 visits to Cuba, “the first decade of the 21st century, before Fidel turned over the reigns to his brother, Raul Castro,” she notes. The work focuses on ordinary moments “in which,” Bank writes, “reality slips seamlessly into the surreal.”

“In 1999 I arrived in Havana, but not by sea,” she writes of the work. “I landed in a small aircraft blown in by Hurricane Irene. White foam and black water boiled over the Malecón and lovers had to forgo love that night. Casting a wide net, stretching the length of the 700-mile island, I eventually settled deep in the countryside with tobacco farmers and their families in Pinar del Río province. Havana became an interlude.”

“Piercing the Darkness,” Bank continues, “unleashes my desire to peel away the exotic veneer of Havana, to unveil the submerged realities of this seductive, illusive citadel — with one eye on the Straits of Florida— fleshing out the casino of life with all its bittersweet shades of hope and despair.”

Bank calls herself “primarily a street photographer,” and she shoots with a Leica M6 with a 28mm lens “to reveal intimacy.”

“My US passport, issued in Havana, expired in 2011,” she notes. “I continue to work on projects close to home, specifically in the Live Free or Die state, along the 18-mile stretch of the New Hampshire seacoast. As of this date, I do not own a digital camera.”


  1. Carlotta Boettcher commented on: July 3, 2017 at 2 p.m.
    Love your photographs, very poignant and revealing of a side of Cuba not often photographed!
  1. Maritza Perez commented on: August 30, 2017 at 3:17 p.m.
    Cuba without makeup, undressed, unexotic..human chiaroscuros of life at the edge of an island on a raft. I want to see more of this good work.

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