WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS Peg Fredi
I went to Cuba to photograph dancers, but I had no idea that it would be a transformative experience. I was about to discover something larger than an image in a camera or on paper. I was about to discover a global connection, something that binds us all together in this experience we call the dance of life.
It all began with an email I got from a mentor-friend asking me if I wanted to participate in a U.S. government-approved educational experience with Cuba’s premier photographic organization, Fototeca de Cuba. It took only about 1.2 seconds to say yes. She told me we would meet Fototeca de Cuba’s director, learn about Cuba’s colorful history, mingle with the people, and photograph dancers. We were granted access to places and people normally unavailable to tourists. Having English-speaking Cuban photographers to provide local lore helped us engage directly with the people.
Experiencing Cuba was like stepping into a time warp. Cars from the 1950s were still on the roads, some restored and some not. Buildings were standing like frozen sentinels over the streets, many in distress from exposure to the elements but dressed in fabulous layers of color. Everything was eye candy.
When we walked through the streets of Old Havana, people would come out of their homes and invite us to come in, visit, and have a meal with them. The fact that I didn’t speak Spanish made no difference in our ability to communicate with each other.
Dance is a way of life in Cuba. From the corners of the streets to Ballet Lizt Alfonso, sensual salsa to neighborhood gatherings, Cuban dance is a mixture of historical events and contemporary forms. We visited and photographed schools of dance that taught classical ballet, flamenco, and folk dances, and witnessed dances with African and European influences.
On the fourth day of shooting, we went to an old theatre where a local troupe, Conjunto Ban Rarra, was practicing for a performance. The magic began with the rhythm supplied by musicians playing handmade Cuban drums. As I began taking photos, the mesmerizing beat and vibrations of the drumming overtook me. Suddenly, as my feet were moving, I was incapable of taking a still photo. I was so entranced in watching these artists’ bodies move to the music, with their colorful costumes flowing, that I didn’t want to forget how I felt while watching these dancers. They were dancing the history of the Cuban people with such passion, telling the story of oppression, joy, sorrow, revolution, and victory. How could I portray what I was seeing and feeling into a single image? I started playing with my camera and the settings.
“Dance is a way of life in Cuba.”What I was seeing on my camera screen was an image that was blurred with movement of figures coming out of the darkness and geometric forms that appeared where there were none. Lines converged to make shapes that, in reality, were not there. I was seeing an image of what I felt. I had led with my heart, and my head had to figure out the rest. As I thought about what I was experiencing, I realized that this rhythm and these movements are part of a basic universal language. It is the dance of life and our common bond with humanity.
Peg Fredi is an award-winning photographer and native Tennessean whose art has been informed by her natural surroundings and Southern Gothic literature.
She is a life-long learner and continually seeks new ways to bring a unique interpretation to her images. Fredi earned an MFA in Visual Arts from the College of Art and Design at Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is an Assistant Professor of Art and Director of the Adams Gallery at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, where she also earned a Master of Arts in Studio Art.
For more information, contact Peg Fredi at email@example.com.