A new photo book documents agricultural communities in Cuba

Documentary photographer Richard Sharum travelled around the Cuban countryside making images of farmers, known as campesinos, and their way of life

“No one depends more on nature, nor is so afraid of its excesses, than the campesino,” writes Domingo Cuza Pedrera in the introduction to Richard Sharum’s new photo book Campesino Cuba. Cuza Pedrera grew up a campesino, spending his childhood climbing trees and making toys, before graduating to helping with the harvest or small chores as his elders tended to the land and livestock.

Campesinos are communities of people who live off the land, typically in remote regions of the countryside. According to Aldo Daniel Naranjo Tamayo’s essay in the book, they play a significant role in Cuba’s historically complex relationship with agriculture over time, and were subject to economic oppression by the government during Spanish colonisation.

Top: Preparing to Harvest Coffee, Early Morning. Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba. November 2017. Above: Boy with Racing Pigeons. Village of La Perla, Cuba. July 2019. All images © Richard Sharum
Rainstorm in the Mountains. Santo Domingo, Cuba. November 2017

The land is naturally a heavy feature in the photographs, and the excesses of nature that Cuza Pedrera refers to are enhanced through the dramatic contrasts captured in black and white. However, the focus remains on the people who live off the land, as Sharum charts their everyday farming practices alongside school, social occasions, and moments of rest.

In making the photographs, Sharum – a documentary photographer normally based in Texas – spent time on and off around Cuba over a period of three and a half years. Over the course of his travels, Sharum began to broaden the focus of the series beyond the male labourers to incorporate photographs of women and children.

Old Generator Building. Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba. March 2019
Harvesting the Rice at Sunset. Village of El Zarzal, Cuba. July 2019

Yet his aim throughout was to steer well clear of the more commonly publicised aspects of Cuban life and culture. “I was not interested in giving credence to expected topics such as renowned political figures, classic cars or the colourful streets of Havana,” Sharum said of the project.

“I was more interested in taking a long and detailed look at the most isolated population group and their position in Cuban history. For this I knew I had to get deep into the land where the blood meets the soil and spend years with those not easily seen.”

Gathering the Cattle for Feeding. Valley of Silence, Cuba. January 2016
After Morning Pledge. Village of Santo Domingo, Cuba. March 2019
Washing and Drying the Coffee Beans. Santo Domingo, Cuba. November 2017
Yara River. Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba. July 2019

Campesino Cuba by Richard Sharum is published by GOST Books; gostbooks.com

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes