Scott Clarke Portfolio Contest Winner
Words: David Best
Scott Clarke went to Cuba on a whim in late September of 2010. He had no real information about the island, except that it was supposed to be a great place to take photographs. It would be an adventure, and a needed break from his job as a police officer in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
Two things hit him squarely in the face when his plane landed in Varadero—the oppressive humidity, and the gorgeous Cuban women with their flowing dark hair, dressed in bright reds and yellows, walking languorously, seemingly without purpose, everywhere he looked. A third thing he noticed were all the classic American cars, most in remarkable condition, cruising the boulevards.
Clarke spent a couple of days acclimatizing to the fiery heat and to the different pace of life. At his hotel, he waited patiently as the concierge attempted to register 50 people ahead of him, one by one, with old-fashioned pen-and-paper registration forms. He began to understand that he was now on Cuban time, meaning that something might happen now, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe not at all. It didn’t really matter. He also started losing his suspicion that everyone was trying to rip him off. They weren’t. The Cuban people he met were friendly and helpful, and he slowly relaxed his police-training suspicions.
Next stop was Havana. He drove along the coast in a rental car, surprised that there was little development along this paradisiacal seashore. Not until he was nearly to the outskirts of Havana did he find small villages with old 1970s resorts, painted blue and red. Then the roads became more crowded with horses, oxcarts, vintage cars, bikes, and always people walking along the road, flagging down rides, jammed atop open trucks. Lost, with no idea of where he was going, Clarke saw a sign that read “Tunnel,” and when he emerged a quarter mile later into blinding light, boom: He was in the heart of Havana.
“There is no real way to describe my first impression,” Clarke recalls, “except that it is sensory overload. It’s like going back in time. There are people and dogs and bicycles and wagons and horses everywhere. There appear to be no rules of the road. It’s everyone for himself. The roads are narrow and winding and you cannot see much of anything coming at you. People are yelling and whistling, cars honking, dogs barking. There is beautifully restored old architecture right next to buildings that seem to have been bombed. Many are just shells. The stone and metal have an amazing patina of age and decay. I will never forget my first ten minutes in Havana.”
Clarke has often returned to this enchanted island nation, enticed by the people, the slower pace, the juxtaposition of beauty and decay, the lovely women and, most of all, the vintage cars that evoke the feeling of being in a time capsule or movie set from the 1950s. He generally strikes off on a morning walk, never knowing what to expect or what he will find. His goal is to explore and document the entire diaspora of Cuba and her people.
He often stays at the Parque Central Hotel in Havana, which has a rooftop pool and a view of old town to die for. In 2015 he staked out a place on the roof to photograph the Pope, who was scheduled to pass by in his Popemobile. While watching the passing parade below, he noticed an older convertible attempting a right-hand turn. He titled the resulting photo “Cuba Cars #11.” “I just really like this composition. The vintage vehicle contrasts with the painted lines on the road, and I love the hat on the front seat beside the driver. It was a much stronger image than any of the photos I shot when the Pope drove by.”
Much of Clarke’s professional life has been spent as a CSI investigator, often photographing the grimmer side of life. His trips to Cuba allow him to see and photograph a happier, more vibrant side of things. “I remember in the early days of shooting film when I had to investigate a very serious homicide. Later that afternoon I was scheduled to shoot a friend’s wedding, and then had to return to the crime scene. When I developed the film I had these horrific images right along with some lovely wedding images. That’s been my life. Full of amazing contrasts.”
Scott Clarke, Ontario, Canada
24 × 32 prints are available for $400. Contact the photographer for further sizes and prices.