>>>Dancing in the streets of Havana
Photo: Omar Z Robles | Official Fujifilm X-Photographer

Dancing in the streets of Havana

Cities are their people. And, for the photographer Omar Z. Robles, they are their dancers. He photographs them executing pirouettes in an alleyway or on a pedestrian crossing in New York or Havana.
I
‘m a really bad tourist. For the two years I lived in Paris, I would pass by the Eiffel Tower and just keep on walking. Countries are their people, not their monuments,” says the photographer Omar Z. Robles. “I’m interested in reflecting human beings – more people in places than places with people”.
He intends to break the mould of normality, substituting the everyday with an alternative reality. To do so, he places an extraordinary person that is a dancer, in an ordinary setting. The result is magical realism captured on camera.
The similarities between the people of Cuba and his native Puerto Rico made Omar Z. Robles feel at ease.
Photo: Omar Z Robles | Official Fujifilm X-Photographer

Coming projects

Omar Z. Robles took portraits of ‘Parkour’ groups in Chicago before focussing on dancers, who he has photographed in New York, San Juan (in Puerto Rico), Seattle, Guatemala and Havana. He is now looking towards Mexico and India, the two countries he would most like to travel to soon.

The Puerto Rican artist plays with the air with the elegance of Richard Avedon, the famous fashion photographer for ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Vogue’ magazines. But, rather than fashion, what led Robles to photograph dancers in the streets of the different cities of the world was mime. He studied this performing art at L’École Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris Marcel Marceau and, subsequently, took a degree in Visual Arts and Communications in Puerto Rico. When he then started out working as a photojournalist, he missed the body language of mime and so he began taking self-portraits in different poses in the streets of New York before deciding to use other people as his models. “I believe that my photographs generally reflect the rawness of documentary or street photography combined with the grace and pose of the dancers,” he affirms.
Just as dancers manage to make their pirouettes look easy and not the result of years training their own bodies, Robles manages to capture the decisive moment made famous by Cartier-Bresson in the interaction between a dancer —usually mid-air— and a dog, old woman, ray of light or rain shower. “We generally meet on a street corner, we start walking and we stop when somewhere appeals to me on account of its light or colour,” the photographer says, explaining the production process for his shots. “I give the dancer some instructions, a basis for the movement, and we improvise. It’s fast work, sometimes taking advantage of a break in traffic as it stops for a red light, without any added lighting.”
More than 200,000 people follow the @omarzrobles account on Instagram
Photo: Omar Z Robles | Official Fujifilm X-Photographer
This year, Robles swapped the streets of Harlem, where he lives, for a backdrop of Havana. Cuban dancers are famed the world over for their raw talent and exquisite technique, so it was one of his dreams to work there. He contacted the dancer Javier Rojas via Instagram and the latter convinced his colleagues at the Cuban National Ballet to take part in the project.
The streets of Old Havana were the setting for the dancers' poses.
Photo: Omar Z Robles | Official Fujifilm X-Photographer
For Robles, the difference between his experiences in Cuba and in other places was people’s reactions. “When they saw us in the street, they approached us curiously, asked questions and cooperated. In New York, people are annoyed that you are in their way. The difference is that daily existence is more fun, more relaxed. I was amazed by the human quality and the spirit of community that I saw in Havana in contrast with the isolation of people in other societies,” he reflects. In this case, of the three aspects of movement, light and people that combine to make Robles’ photographs possible, people were the main, magical, ingredient.

Related articles

Magic in Havana

We don’t know if it’s the garish coloured walls or the frenetic rhythm of its rumba, but the Callejón de...

Havana warms up

They talk about the thawing ice, but here the mojitos are served nice and cool. Life in Havana continues to...

Hostels where you’ll like the company

Hostels are increasingly attracting all types of tourists, not just backpackers. And the truth is, with their welcoming rooms they...

The Setting for the Oscars

In February, Los Angeles is transformed into the place where the most impressive locations in the world come together as...