CLOSE UP: Mark Eden – Havana St, Havana

© Mark Eden

Shutter Hub member Mark Eden is a travel photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. He creates images and words that help tell the stories of our vibrant, diverse world and its people. 

He works predominantly in editorial travel, with a focus on lesser explore regions and new ways to understand well known places, often through the daily experiences of the people who live there – ‘little stories’ as he calls them. For example, we’ve read about the history of the Taj Mahal, but what do we know of the grounds keeper who has been trimming the hedges and sweeping the mosque floors for the past 20 years? And what can he teach us that isn’t in the guide books? These are the questions Mark is passionate about answering and the stories he loves to tell. Mark’s work has been featured in YEARBOOK 2022’s digital exhibition. 

When we hear and read so much about a place we tend to form preconceptions. What these are depend greatly on the sources of information, their volume and variance. They may be negative or positive, factual or false, but they are almost always incomplete. We might even be aware we’re forming them, but we instinctively do it nonetheless.

One of the joys and privileges of travel is the chance to find out if these preconceptions hold up. If the one negative experience our friend had coloured their entire view, If what we’ve seen on TV has been oversimplified (it usually has), or if all that pre-trip research we did managed to give us an accurate picture of what to expect.

This is what led me to visit Cuba for the first time. To see life for myself compared to its depiction in all of the many movies, books, songs or guides made over the years. I knew the country had a complicated and often troubled past, but how does that balance with the happy-go-lucky tropical paradise we see in the media?


© Mark Eden

I’ve always had a fascination with how the past shapes the present and Cuba, distilled into the city of Havana, occupies a unique place in the world with its history of migration and integration, colonialism and the endurance of the Cuban people. So when Ricardo, a friend and local history student, offered to show me around Habana Veija, the oldest part of the city, I was quick to take him up.

I wanted to document life in Havana today and all the depth and texture that it entails, as well as learn a few things and meet some people along the way. There was no set agenda other than to take in the sights, sounds and smells and try to understand how today’s city came to be.


© Mark Eden

We met Sam, who introduced us to Habanera, a uniquely Cuban form of music born from African immigration via Haiti and influenced by Spanish colonialism. We explored dusty streets in the harsh sun and gained an understanding of the architecture of the city. On occasion we were able to literally see history in some of the old brick facades due to the presence of bullet holes left over from attacks by English, Dutch and French sea marauders.

At a local food market inside what remained of a crumbled old town house we discovered how it is easier for people to allow their properties to collapse when they are unable to pay for repairs and rent out the land.


© Mark Eden

I learned of how the Communist Cuban government slowly allowed its citizens to operate private businesses and how to spot the difference between state run and private enterprises.
I learned about how Cuba essentially has 3 different separate markets including a huge black market and the role that plays in today’s society. I learned how all interests and pursuits are encouraged. If a young girl or boy decides they want to be an artist and not a solicitor, then they are encouraged rather than dissuaded like might happen in so called developed nations. And I leaned of the flip side to this: a bus driver might earn as much or more than a doctor or scientist.


© Mark Eden

It’s embarrassingly cliched to say, but throughout it struck me how much of a reflection of history Cuban’s are. Everyone is so mixed in background it becomes impossible to dislike each other, and a troubled past has seen people endure attacks by European superpowers, colonial rule and slavery, and more recently the impact of Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union which crippled Cuba’s economy and led to the so called “special period”.

All of this makes for a friendly, outgoing and tolerant people open to change and resilient to hardships. Appreciative of what they have and not too phased by material things they might lack. If people are a reflection of where they live then the opposite is also true. Influenced by the past but aware of their ability to shape the future, Cuban’s today have evolved Havana, and indeed the entire country, into a place of peace, hope and optimism.


© Mark Eden

What do you get when you cross colonial history with music, add coffee and more than a dash of rum?

I went to Havana to find out what makes the city tick and Havana St, Havana is the result. A photo essay, limited edition print series and story.


To find out more about Mark’s work, visit his Shutter Hub portfolio here and his website here.



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