Photographer's 'Unseen Cuba' gives unique view of island nation
BY CONNIE OGLE MIAMI HERALD
01/28/2015 10:36 AM 01/28/2015 10:36 AM
Even with restrictions lifting on U.S. travel to Cuba, few of us will
ever see the island from the vantage point of Lithuanian photographer
But we can look at his pictures - and marvel.
The first and only artist to receive permission from the Cuban
government to fly over the country and photograph it, Jovaisa is eager
to talk about "Unseen Cuba" (Unseen Pictures, $99.95).
"I put a lot of my heart into this project," says the photographer of
four other large-format books: "Unseen Lithuania," "Magic Cancun &
Riviera Maya," "Heavenly Yucatan" and "Heavenly Belize." "I hope to
evoke the feeling I did in my home country. People just don't have an
opportunity to see things from this angle."
Shot from an ultralight craft, with stunning aerial views of the island
from Cabo de San Antonio on the western tip to Baracoa in the east,
"Unseen Cuba" is the culmination of almost five grueling years of
Jovaisa's life. He came up with the idea after the success of "Unseen
Lithuania," which sold 70,000 copies in a country of less than 3 million
Having grown up under Soviet rule in Lithuania, Jovaisa expected to face
a certain amount of red tape getting permits for the project. But he had
no idea he'd spend 2 1/2 years wrestling with bureaucrats before he ever
got off the ground.
"At least three times I was seriously considering calling it quits and
going home," he admits. "It was just impossible."
He learned Spanish to communicate with officials. He traveled to Cuba
for meetings armed with his books and plans and promises to pay for
everything. He agreed to hire a Cuban pilot and not import one from
Lithuania, Australia or - God forbid - the United States. And he still
came away empty-handed.
"There would be 15 people sitting around a table with serious faces
making notes and producing minutes," he says. "In the Soviet Union there
was this phrase, 'imitation of activity,' that Soviet style approach
where you imitate that you're serious, but you know in your heart you're
not going to do anything once the meeting is over. They'd say after
every meeting, 'We're going to send you updates,' and I'd wait and wait
and then have to come back to the table."
With support from various cultural organizations and probably more than
a little luck, Jovaisa eventually got the OK, with stipulations. No
Cuban pilot was trained on the sort of ultralight he had shipped over
from Australia, but a Lithuanian pilot was allowed into the country to
help assemble it and to provide training. The government also provided a
map dictating where he was allowed to fly. At first, all major cities
were out of bounds.
Jovaisa, who admits he adapted a bit of a "ask for forgiveness, not
permission" attitude, decided to start shooting, show the officials his
work and apply for the permits again. The strategy worked: After a year,
he tried again and received permission to shoot all the cities except
Havana, which he was eventually allowed to photograph in April.
Jovaisa says his favorite sights were mostly around Baracoa and its
"When the sun is low, and you see those endless little islands going
toward the horizon with all the reflections, it's so mystical for me,"
he says, adding that he sought out the juxtaposition of manmade
structures against natural beauty and that "I am a huge fan of morning
Seeing the world from above is always exhilarating for the
self-professed adrenaline junkie, who is a triathlete and skydiver.
(He's also fond of bungee jumping and ran his first ultra marathon of 33
miles in Cuba.) But his experience on the ground in Cuba may have proved
the most thought-provoking.
"I was a kid growing up under Soviet rule," he muses. "I still have
those memories. I would go to Cuba and feel a little deja vu. You get
transported into another world, back 50 or 60 years. ... The Cuban
people are very, very friendly. A couple of times I brought my kids with
me, and it was amazing how resourceful the Cubans were, playing with my
family. It was great, absolutely incomparable."
Source: Photographer's 'Unseen Cuba' gives unique view of island nation
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