HAVANA, March 16 (Xinhua) — Visitors to Havana’s Old Quarter would have some fun memorabilia of their “travel back in time” as they pose before a vintage box camera manufactured more than 100 years ago.
While the rise of cellphones and selfies has made street photography fairly obsolete, Cuban brothers Jose and Yomar Del Toro are keeping the tradition alive in Havana’s Central Park with a couple of the last such cameras still functioning.
Surrounded by impressive colonial-era buildings, almost all of which declared heritage sites, the park is the perfect backdrop for a portrait, which makes it popular with passersby.
“Everyone wants to have their picture taken with that old gadget,” Jose, 54, told Xinhua.
Jose has been earning a living through photography since 1980, when he inherited his grandfather’s camera, a 1912 Eastman Kodak Speed Graphic.
Yomar, who is 14 years younger than Jose, works at the opposite corner of the park, using another antique Kodak camera he inherited from their father, who is also a street photographer.
“This has its charm,” he says with a laugh, as he prepares to photograph a young couple.
Getting your picture at the park has long come to be a tradition. For many years, Cubans arriving in the capital from the countryside would pose for a photograph in front of the city’s top monuments, such as the nearby Capitol building or the statue of national hero Jose Marti, erected at the center of the park.
That’s why the park once bustled with street photographers lugging their large box cameras which can deliver fast black and white images.
The cameras use photographic paper that is developed inside the box with the necessary chemicals, providing a negative that is then turned into a positive image.
In a matter of minutes, customers have their photo in hand. Many want “Havana” or “Cuba” to appear on the photo, a detail that is done manually, by placing letters on the negative copy before copying it.
Cuba’s photographic tradition can be seen at the Historical Photo Library at the City Historian’s Office. Several antique cameras are also on display, including a bellows Kodak manufactured in 1880.
Thanks to the Del Toro brothers, the tradition continues, though it is dying out because it is getting harder and harder to find the paper and chemicals needed for the developing and printing.
“Today it is very difficult to get paper, developer and fixer,” Jose said.