Spotlight: Reclaiming Cuba, Without Filters

By David Schonauer   Tuesday September 10, 2019

Transportation is a daily headache in Cuba.

“Private trucks are used to move people around. These trucks are filled with people, and during the summertime when temperature can reach over 100 degrees it is a real nightmare,” says photographer William Riera.

Riera was born in Cuba but emigrated to the US in 1995, at the height of the island country’s so-called “Special Period,” a time of economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2000 Reira began visiting his hometown of Santiago de Cuba.

“My photographic gaze was directed to document the daily life of the city, already almost foreign to me, through a realistic vision, without filters,” he says.

The result was his series  "Los Santiagueros, Siglo XXI" (“The Santiagueros, Century XXI”). “Intentionally, I have tried to stay away from the classic images seen everywhere from Cuba depicting the daily life very far from reality,” Riera says.  “'Los Santiagueros, Siglo XXI’ is a photographic series where there is nothing set or staged in the production of the images. This is my best way to reconnect with my city.”

The work was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 7 competition. One of the images from the series, taken in 2017 and singled out by the contest’s judges, focuses on the ordeal of getting around in the city (below).

“At the present time, I shoot with my Canon 5D Mark III camera, but I have also worked with Canon 5D and 5D Mark II cameras. I started to work on the series using film with a Canon Elan 7E,” notes Riera. “The main challenges I have faced producing this body of work have been related to my identity, my memories and the gradually loss of them, and my encounter with my birth city of Santiago de Cuba, where I cannot find myself anymore."

Riera notes at his website that he studied software engineering at Havana’s Polytechnic University, graduating in 1990. He now lives in Miami.

“While I have enjoyed for many years designing and programming software systems, I was fortunate to find early enough my life's passion and true calling: being a photographer, a world wanderer and an observer of the human experience,” he writes. “Exploring the full range of human emotions through the making of images is an exciting challenge that becomes very rewarding when light, moment and composition are aligned into a memorable image.”

His work has been featured in a number of group and solo exhibitions, including the exhibition “Santiago de Cuba in My Heart: An Intimate Portrait of the City Through the Lens of William Riera” at the New Professions Technical Institute Art Gallery in Miami.

See more of Riera’s work at his Instagram page.

Dispatches from Latin America