Lissette Solorzano

The photograph shows a path of old stone steps leading past a burned Ceiba tree over a parched hill into the beyond. The beyond, in this case, is where the Cuban landscape ends and the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo begins. The photo is called "Stairway to Heaven."

The photographer responsible for this and many other penetrating sepia or black-and-white images is a colorful, smiling woman called Lissette Solórzano. She lives in Havana but we met her in a house by the beach in Guanabo where she spends her free weekends.

Her Guantánamo pictures are part of a series on the theme of "desertification," which, as with most of the themes that interest Solórzano, has profound implications for Cuba and for the rest of the planet. An estimated 60 percent of Cuban soil suffers from erosion and salinity and the island's eastern provinces, Guantánamo among them, suffer the most. Yet Solórzano's pictures manage to go beyond mere depiction of environmental catastrophe to call into question our responsibility for it.

"I started out doing documentary photography," Solórzano says, "but my pictures have always come together as a story – more like an essay than straight reportage."
She has traveled to Canada and Mexico, and she spent two months in New York City working on the photos that went into her "Homeless" series, which was subsequently shown in the U.S. and back home in Cuba.

While we've become accustomed to seeing photography treated with reverence in art galleries and museums, Solórzano prefers to see her work set in a livelier context. For her "El Ferrocarril" exhibition (2002), galleries were outfitted with train tracks and resonated with music and sound effects ("I like things to be noisy"). Her train pictures, revealing an astonishing diversity of people and situations, were all made in one day, as Solórzano rode the line that runs from Tulipán in Havana's Cerro district to San Antonio on the outskirts of the city.

Her stories all tend to have a precise part of departure but sometimes they can take a long time to finish. Back in 1991 she began her "Made in Cuba" series, chronicling the peculiarities of the island with great insight but also with great affection. She still hasn't reached anything resembling a conclusion. "I think 'Made in Cuba' will go on forever," she says.