Cuban Photographer Yunior Yanes, Discoverer of Beauty

By Helson Hernandez

Yunior Yanes
Yunior Yanes

HAVANA TIMES – The circumstances in which creation happens in the photographic milieu on the island and artistic interests based on the search for another Havana, these are the revelations of Cuban photographer Yunior Yanes. “I try to pay homage to daily life, to all common things.”

HT: Photography as a means of expression?

Yunior Yanes: Though I love other artistic expressions like music, painting and theater, photography is the medium I found to express my way of seeing life and the world that surrounds me. It also has served as an instrument to voice my thoughts and feelings. To reflect reality, or even invent it by way of images, is a fabulous experience.

HT: Is there a topic that defines your visual interests as a photographer?

YY: Definitely architecture, although I’m also interested in abstractionism as an art form, despite the fact that it’s one of the least favored themes in the world of photography.

The conjunction of shapes, colors, lines, textures, shadows and light that you get from an architectural construction is a very rich source of pictures. Even the same place or space, seen at different times or in different time periods can turn out to be different. Everything changes, even buildings. A place you have already visited can surprise you with details you haven’t seen before.

HT: I’ve heard that your relationship with prestigious artists from the world of photography motivated your professional interest for this visual art form.

Calle Línea.
Calle Línea.

YY: I learned a lot from studying at the Cabrales del Valle Photography Academy of Havana, where, in addition to the technical requirements about cameras and photographic production, a strong component is dedicated to the appreciation and history of photography and art in general. It’s a must to go over the classics and learn everything you can from them, even if you find your own path later on. It’s also important to follow your contemporaries and see what’s being done and compare. That’s how you start defining your style and finding your space.

I really like Cuban photography from the beginning of the Revolution. I think the artists who lived through so many changes and transcendental events, and their epic nature remains splendidly captured in their work. Without a doubt, the Spanish photographer Pedro Coll is the one who most determined my interest in this visual art form. Having had the opportunity to count on his friendship, listen to his advice and learn by observing him as he works has motivated and inspired me very much. Pedro Coll’s immaculate photography is a reference for my work.

HT: You’ve created an exhibit in which you uncover a visual site of Havana that many don’t get to see.

YY: As the famous Cuban writer and dramatist Abilio Estévez says, “Havana is an inexhaustible city.” There have been and there will be many approaches to the city and its inhabitants, motivated by the beauty and the magnetism the places and their people project.

In my case, I wanted to emphasize the spaces that surround us, and that most of the time we don’t entirely appreciate, or in the worst cases, that we don’t even see. But they’re there, next to us, observing us, and forming part of our lives’ scenography. I try to pay homage to daily life, to common things. I try to surprise spectators by presenting them with a different perspective of these places.

El Castillo del Morro.
El Castillo del Morro.

It’s surprising that people aren’t able to identify places that are sometimes just around the corner from their home. I hope my work serves to better appreciate these places.

HT: In terms of Havana today, how do you see the reality of this city, not as a photographer, but as someone who lives here?

YY: The fact that I wasn’t born in Havana might explain the feeling of discovery that accompanies my work. Life in the city is always hard and aggressive. The lack of discipline, of formal education, the scarcity of resources, the indolence and apathy, as well as many other factors, have made Havana appear agonizing on many occasions.

But I feel that Havana is like a mother who always welcomes, comforts and protects us, despite the fact that we don’t always reciprocate with the same affection. When I pass by the places that have now been fixed up and have taken on a new life, I realize that there is still hope. We the people have to maintain this hope alive and care for each street corner, each neighborhood with more affection.

HT: You are also professionally employed in the tourism industry.

YY: I was trained as an industrial engineer and I’ve always worked in the tourist business. Tourism and working in this industry gives you the possibility to get to know many places and learn about history, customs and traditions. Tourism, like photography, is a way of acquiring cultural knowledge. My current profession has also allowed me to interact with pictures whose purpose is mainly advertising, and this complements my photographic work.

HT: Is artistic photography a profession that could support the personal economy of a Cuban on the island?

YY: I hope to live exclusively off of photography one day. I would have absolute freedom to work without the pressure of a schedule or of any other kind that the business world necessarily imposes on you. As far as I know, the market for photography in Cuba is much more incipient than for other graphic art forms. There are Cuban photographers who have succeeded in selling their work for reasonable prices, but many of them don’t live on the island.

The Anti-imperialist bandstand used for political and entertainment events.
The Anti-imperialist bandstand used for political and entertainment events.

In my opinion, there aren’t many ways of promoting your work in this country. It’s hard to find galleries that will open their spaces to show the work of photographers. Printing and mounting are very expensive, and photography critics are scarce. All of this influences marketing.

As an artist, I’m trying to consolidate my work, perfect it and find my own style, which will allow me to gain recognition as a photographer on the island and abroad. You have to persist and invest time and resources in promotion; otherwise it will be impossible to position yourself effectively on the photography market, which is very competitive.

HT: In addition to looking for urban beauty, what else would you be interested in exploring with your lens?

YY: There are other topics that I’m concerned with, and that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I want to focus on more specific ideas and further develop them to try to find the essence, and see what comes out.