Exploring the human condition
It was 1964. Just five years after the Cuban revolution, Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt went to Havana on a reportage trip with Newsweek. In his “decisive moment” style reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt not only took the candid close-ups and documentary images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara that have become iconic, but also explored the lives of the Cuban people. A window into a country by then out of bounds for most Americans, his photographs became a record of a particular time in Cuba's history.
Fast-forward 51 years and Erwitt, aged 87, approached Havana Club 7 with a two-fold idea: a photographic journey to record the lives of Cubans today; and a scholarship programme to encourage a new generation to “explore the human condition in Cuba through documentary photography”.
Launched in 2015, the Elliott Erwitt Havana Club 7 Fellowship is inspired by the tradition of the Masters of Cuban Rum: each new Master of Rum is presented with with some aged rum by his or her mentor to ensure a living legacy. Starting the ball rolling, sales from seven of Erwitt's photographs from his 2015 visit to Cuba helped to fund the very first Elliott Erwitt Havana Club 7 Fellowship, awarded to Ali Taptik from Turkey. Thereafter, each Fellow will produce seven images that will be sold to help fund the next Fellow's project.
“I think this is a wonderful moment to document this country, and whatever you photograph now is going to be important, it's going to be a legacy for you and for this country,” Erwitt says to the young photographers he hopes to inspire. He urges them not to set out with a preconceived idea, but to wander the streets, to explore and to capture real moments that evoke emotions: “You can find pictures anywhere. It's simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what's around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”