Book Review: Havana Youth by Greg Kahn
Greg Kahn says he wants Havana Youth to break the stereotype of what it means to be Cuban. The country’s current identity by and large was formed on a sense of collectivism: the idea of the benefit of a large group of people versus the individual. The youth of Cuba today are striving to break that stereotype and form new ideas based on how their counterculture reflects their own identity. This is somewhat challenging due to the lack of pop culture influences they allowed in Cuba for most of their lives. They’ve not been inundated with tons of commercials, tons of magazine advertisements, etc. due to the lack of these sources in Cuba. Their fashion sense and the zeitgeist of the youth Kahn photographed in Cuba are born from their own unbound expression of how they wish to be seen as a generation, and a culture.
An interesting cultural evolution is taking place in Cuba, especially with the millennial generation. Technologically they skipped straight past pagers and cell phones and went from landlines to iPhones. They are now soaking up popular culture via the internet, mimicking what they see, and re-inventing themselves – and Cuban culture – in the process. Kahn says he fell into the trap of photographing stereotypical architecture and old Cuba versus new Cuba images at first. After two initial trips to Cuba, he realized he was making the wrong type of work for what he wanted to capture. A lucky encounter with discovering an outdoor rave concert thriving with thousands of young Cubans, helped him realize that this is the driving force behind the change in Cuba’s economy and its future. Their energy, their drive and their sense of music and fashion were a key part of their identity.
Young Cubans’ sense of fashion is a conscious decision be a counterculture – their clothing is a middle finger to authority. This attitude is similar to one in another photo book I’ve seen about gang youth in 1980s New York City who were wearing designer clothing as an expression of the ultimate luxury living experience. Their desire to achieve their own version of the American Dream was presented to the world through apparel designed to declare: I have made it. For Cuban youth, their newly acquired iPhones, international magazines, smuggled underground movies and internet hotspots have become a way to raise their status. It is also the way for them to resist the government. A fashion blogger Kahn met in Cuban said clothes are communication. Every day there is a really conscious choice about what he is going to wear. Clothes have a strong connotation; they can be like a journalist writing against the government. It’s what it means to be free.
This culture is not only evolution, it is revolution. It is revolution without the need to fire single shot; it is revolution with a capital R, through the guise of fashion, communication, and expression via counterculture. The Cuban government will not allow for protests out in the public eye. The youth of Cuba are protesting through this subversive process of accessing the internet, and accessing a way to make money and gain upward mobility in an oppressive environment. Kahn’s images show us an avant-garde way of life within the world of youth and fashion in Cuba, and also how a new socio-political way of life is forming as well.
Photographs by Greg Kahn
Introduction by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant
Hardcover, 11.25 x 8.5 inches
144 pages + additional softcover zine
Edition of 500
To find out more about the work of Greg Kahn, and Havana Youth, please visit his website https://www.gregkahn.com/. To purchase the book, please visit Yoffy Press at http://www.yoffypress.com/havana-youth
All images shown are © Greg Kahn, used by permission of the publisher.
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