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