Crazy, colourful Cuba

Posted on 30 April 2024 By Lisa Abdellah

Petrus Cornelius Jacobus “Obie” Oberholzer’s photographic career began at the age of 10 on a tour of Europe with his mother. In Italy, Obie took a miraculous picture that straightened the leaning tower of Pisa in the frame and made the nearby church complex lean over. Only his mother found it funny. It led to studies in art at Stellenbosch University and the Bayerische Staatslehr-Anstaltr Fotografie (and many beer halls) in Munich. After returning to South Africa in 1974, Obie embarked on a legendary career with more than 13 photographic books, about 35 one-man exhibitions in South Africa and 11.

Here, he’s let loose on a nation that rivals the flamboyant complexity of his own mind.

The Colón Cemetery in Havana is one of the largest cemeteries in the world and is named after Christopher Columbus. Words can’t explain man’s obsession with his own legacy, eternity and passing. So, as I walk this cemetery’s avenues of death, I see not the darkness, the sadness, the departed, but a million reflections of light and brightness. This cemetery spans an area of more than 56 hectares with more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels and family vaults, many considered historical, architectural treasures. I find myself pausing more to think than to photograph. I fall in love with so many sculpted angels that my eyes drop a tear. I feel honoured to walk the light where a million people are buried.

Sloppy Joe’s Bar is one of the most famous bars in the world. It reopened in 2013 after being closed for 48 years. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was a magnet for American celebrities as well as tourists wanting to mingle with them, but the Cuban Revolution put an end to that in 1959.

A blue 1954 Morris Crowley is parked in front of a colonial facade in La Habana Vieja, the old city of Havana.

Varadero is considered Cuba’s top resort. Its long beachfront, with 61 hotels, stretches for 19km along a narrow peninsula. Up until 2008, Cubans were not allowed to visit here. In most other countries, this five-star extravaganza would probably only be a three-star hotel. But remember: Cuba is like no other country. Tourists now see Cuba by lying around the pool drinking rum cocktails. Paradise.

People and tricycle taxis pass along the old colonial facades of Paseo de Martí in Old Havana. It is one of the most beautiful, historic promenades in Cuba.

Sharing, talking, sitting, singing and living life on the streets is a thread that flows through most Cubans. Here I sneak a quick shot of some women having a chat on a street corner in the town of Viñales in the district of Pinar del Rio.

The Malecón Esplanade, the 8km promenade along the seafront of old Havana, displays a multitude of extraordinary sights. It’s a vintage car and people parade, saturated with mood, colour, sound and visuals.

This article was adapted from a version that appeared in our January 2022 magazine issue.
Orginally written and photographed by Obie Oberholzer

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