When I became a photographer, I often tried to take pictures that looked like Ansel Adams', or lesser known but great photographers such as my friend Bill Schwab, or that emulated pictures that I saw in galleries or magazines. But as I matured I realized that I needed to find my own photographs. I looked for ways to express familiar subjects from a different perspective. It became so important to me that if I was with a group of photographers I would deliberately go a different direction from the rest, determined to see something the others had not, or at least in a unique way. Happily, I also learned that sometimes a photographer needs to break the rules, which I am compelled to do in making this photograph.
I am walking along the Malecon with fellow photographer Annie Katz. As we pass this gorgeous taxi particular, the driver, who is sitting on the seawall, asks if we need a ride. I summon my best Spanish to explain that we need to walk to find photographs, and compliment him on his car. He smiles and says, “1956 Chevy!” In my younger days I was a gearhead so I know exactly what this car is, and I am amused by the penchant that Cuban taxistas have for describing the pedigrees of their American cars to people from the United States. I reflect that it is their way of expressing pride in owning and preserving these marvelous machines, built in America and living on here in Cuba. I think it is a bond between our countries that goes back to the time before our governments became enemies and their citizens estranged. I also consider what great cities Detroit and Havana were when this car was built, and the different forms of malaise that each has suffered since. While I spend time thinking this through, Annie begins shooting the car handheld with her digital camera.
Ordinarily I would consider the picture “hers” and go looking for something else to photograph. But the driver has left his interior light on above the white leather upholstery, and I visualize a black and white photograph that depicts the glow that I see emanating from the car. So I set up my camera and expose two sheets of film. The long exposure required to record a little detail in the shadows allows the lights of passing vehicles to make streaks across the film, and gives the scene the sharply defined high contrast that I enjoy seeing in a photograph made at night.
In the darkroom my goal is to convey that glow, giving the highlights just enough exposure so that detail in the upholstery is preserved, while keeping the front of the car from disappearing into shadow. It took three sessions in the darkroom but in the end I like the picture and hope that it is different than what Annie saw.