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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Mama Havana - Do you have a Light? 姊抽菸

For those that have been to Havana, you will easily remember this lady - another larger than life character from the streets of old Havana. Photographed many times by many photographers worldwide over the years, in her signature white Santeria dress and red flowers on her head, with that lymphaedematous left arm. Her Afro-Cuban image is simply badass but so full of character. Some say her name is Esperanza. She can usually be found on Mercaderes and Empedrado at the yellow building behind Cespedes Park in Old Havana, gladly posing for photos for everyone and anyone and receiving a tip thereafter.

For travel portrait photographers, there are always certain themes, destinations and characters that we commonly photograph. Street scenes and street characters in Havana is a popular theme. When we fall in love with the place and people, we go back again to photograph it at a deeper and more different level, making new friends along the way.

Esperanza fits the bill perfectly, she is every photographer's dream subject - classic image, unpretentious and tells the perfect story each time. And for those that ask if Esperanza really lights and smokes the cigar - yes she does!

The photograph is one of my earlier works, from 2015 when I first visited Havana.

It has recently been picked to be an exhibit for the upcoming "That's my World - Award Winning Photographers" show at Apfelweinegalerie in Frankfurt this Spring and will be made for sale exclusively at the gallery for the first time.

More information on the exhibition can be found here:

For those who have been following my works, I went back to Havana in 2018 to photograph my dancer friend Lester Alejandro - we have kept in contact since 2015, and from there my multi-award winning series 1957.

Alas, I did not see Esperanza on my 2nd trip to Havana, but her classic image will always remain strong in my mind. Thank you Esperanza, for being part of my travels and for this very iconic and beautiful souvenir.

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