A photograph of Teatro Mella in Havana, taken by renowned writer and lover of Cuba Claire Boobbyer, has won first prize at the LATA photography awards. Read on and find out about what inspired Claire to snap the shot, and how the Cuban capital is undergoing a very different kind of renaissance!
Capturing the soul of Cuba in one shot
Photography is an art many people underestimate. How do you capture Cuba in just one photo? After all, this is an island that's always done things slightly differently. After the revolution which ended in 1959, Cuba faced decade after decade of isolation, standing up to global superpower the United States just 90 miles away across the sea.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, being so geographically close to America and then choosing to base your political and social ideologies on the Soviet model is a brave decision. Cuba is a nation with a backbone and has therefore forged a strong national identity.
So how best to reflect that in one snap? Renowned writer and lover of Cuba Claire Boobbyer has done just that with her beautiful photograph of the newly restored neon sign on the Teatro Mella in the Cuban capital of Havana.
The photo accompanied a story she wrote on Havana's neon sign revival for BBC Travel about how Cuban artist Kadir Lopez and Cuban-American neon expert Adolfo V. Nodal are restoring dozens of wilted signs in order to bring back a gorgeous vintage glow to Havana.
The Latin American Travel Association (LATA) were so impressed with the snap that Claire has scooped first prize in their photography awards category.
LATA Media Awards 2021
The Latin American Travel Association revealed the winners of the LATA Media Awards in a virtual ceremony that took place on 11th May.
These prestigious awards celebrate the best in Latin American travel journalism and photography, and in total, there were over 175 submissions across the nine categories. These categories include Consumer National Newspaper Feature of the Year, Vlog or Podcast of the Year, Best Self-Published Award, and Top Published Photo Award.
The LATA Media Awards judging panel was made up of key industry figures including Colin Stewart, Chairman of LATA, Dan Linstead, Editorial Director at Immediate Media, Richard Hammond, Founder and Chief Executive of Green Traveller, Martin Williams, CEO of M & Gaucho Restaurants, Mark O'Donoghue, COO of Travel Counsellors, and Amaranta Wright, Founder and Managing Director of LatinoLife Media and Events.
"My sincerest congratulations to the winners of the LATA Media Awards. The standard of the entries was exceptionally high as always which is testament to the quality of travel journalism and photography on display from our winners that I am sure has inspired travellers from across the UK to travel to Latin America when restrictions permit." - Colin Stewart, Chairman of LATA
A glowing Cuban renaissance
Claire Boobbyer's photo went with an excellent article she had published by the BBC back in 2019, detailing a special makeover Havana was getting by a local artist.
The article details how Castro's revolution left Havana much changed from the "belle epoque" city of libertines, avant-garde art, and burlesque it had been since the turn of the 20th century.
Specifically, the beautiful old neon signs had been left to flicker, and eventually go out. Money was tight, and few people had the means or resources for the upkeep.
Then, more than half a century later, one Cuban artist is on a personal mission to switch the city's vintage neon tubes back on.
Since 2016, artist Kadir Lopez has been painstakingly rescuing and restoring the city's vintage signs one by one as part of his Habana Light Neon + Signs project. So far, he and his team have resurrected more than fifty signs to their former glory.
"Neon has illuminated the dark and allowed people to see what they didn't see before. The effect of neon is phenomenal. People are looking at the city in a different way. With a little bit of light, locals can see the city's wrinkles and the light of history." - Kadir Lopez, local artist in Havana
A painstaking process and works of love in Cuba
It's the Cuban state who is to thank for the green light Lopez has to carry out this project. There has been an increase in the legalisation of private businesses, property sales, and foreign investment within the last decade, and a growing number of entrepreneurs from Havana have begun commissioning neon signs for their new businesses.
This newfound commercial interest, coupled with financing from international sponsors for individual signs, has led Lopez's restoration project to slowly begin re-lighting the once-bright neon signs adorning state-run theatres, cinemas and restaurants that had gone dark in recent decades.
Now, under the glow of these vintage neon lights, Havana shines brightly as a modern city firmly in touch with its past. And as Claire Boobbyer will testify, Havana makes for some great photo opportunities.