Before the Flood

Cubans are the most outgoing, talkative people I have ever met, and they seem particularly interested in talking to an American. It’s a place with a tangled history when it comes to Americans, as I was reminded by passing San Juan Hill on the road from Santiago to Playa Siboney and a little while later, passing by the little house from which Castro and a hundred others launched the revolution in 1953 with their ill-fated raid on the army barracks in Santiago. Now with that history taking a turn, I want to understand and portray the present.

I came up with the idea of creating wide angle views of everyday life from 6×6 negatives by overlaying the edges of multiple pictures. The imperfect joining fits the rough edges of the country and the distortion the montages sometimes produce help to put across the disorienting, sometimes surreal experience of being in the parallel universe of Cuba. Not simply a society frozen in the past, but simultaneously a society that has been striving toward a particular kind of future.

In Santa Clara, a small tranquil city in central Cuba, I found the old man and young man playing chess. Next door to them was a woman who started up a conversation with me and while we were talking, her neighbor’s 4 year-old daughter ran out of the house to greet and climb aboard a little “train” with a smiley-faced engine and a couple carloads of gleeful little kids that circled through the dusty neighborhood. It was like something out of Disneyland without the Disneyland.

Not to romanticize – I heard enough stories of the difficulties of people’s lives to avoid those feelings – but I hope that, along with Cubans’ economic conditions improving and increased connection to the outside world, some things aren’t lost.

About the author of Before the Flood:
Peter Brian Schafer was born, raised, and went to college in northern California. After moving to Baltimore to go to graduate school in public health, he raised a daughter, took miscellaneous photography and filmmaking courses at MICA, NYU, and ICP, and dropped out of graduate school. Like everyone else, he currently lives in Brooklyn.

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