During the Spring of 2018, I spent 8 days in Cuba, documenting the daily life of the Cuban people. As a documentary photographer, my goal is to capture life as it happens, authentically. Therefore, I didn't ask people to pose for the purpose of creating a more dynamic or interesting photograph, as I suspect is rather common from what I observed while I was there. I wanted my photographs to speak to those who viewed them with purity and honesty.
This moment is one of my favorite photographs from my journey to Cuba. As I walked up to these men, I instantly could sense that the man on the step was ready to engage with me, while the man in the chair wanted to keep his distance. I also realized all three of us lived through and surely remembered the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. As all of these thoughts went through my mind, I realized there was potentially a Great Divide between these two Cubans and this American stranger with a camera in his hands.
Sometimes I take public photographs without asking for permission, and at other times I ask permission. In this circumstance, I motioned towards my camera and then to them, and the man on the step nodded his approval. The man in the chair didn't respond. I took the photograph.
After taking the photograph, I displayed it on the screen of my camera and showed it to the man on the step; he smiled and nodded his approval. I offered it to the man in the chair, and he declined with a shake of his head. I slowly and warmly touched the shoulder of the man on the step. Our eyes met and there was a shared empathy that moved me. I nodded to the man in the chair as I moved away, and he slowly nodded a reluctant nod.
As I walked away I realized there is a Great Divide between people around the world and even within the "friendly" confines of our own country, our own state, our own county, our own city, our own town, and sadly, our own families. And so I wondered, what is the difference between the man on the step and the man in the chair? It's a difficult question. I believe we are living in a time of dichotomies that make the great divide a serious chasm. It is "right vs wrong", "left vs right", "truth vs lies", "socialism vs democracy", "Republican vs Democrat", "immigrant vs citizen", "Christian vs Muslim", "believer vs unbeliever", "straight vs gay", "black vs white", "white vs black", "Fox vs CNN", "male vs female", "Catholic vs Lutheran", "Christian vs Jew", and on and on.
I believe the man on the step and I had something in common: a desire to put the past behind us and live today in peace and harmony. We didn't need to hammer out or dwell on the minute or the grand issues that divide us in order to reach out to one another. He didn't poke me in the eye and I didn't poke him in the eye. We probably could have found a lot we could disagree on, but instead we chose to smile and live in peace and make the most of this moment.
The man in the chair isn't a lot different, perhaps. Or maybe he is. Maybe he's just suspicious and prone to remember that the Americans were the enemy and that they remain the enemy, and that makes him hesitant to be open to friendship. Or maybe he harbors the disdain he once felt and still clings too -- perhaps he will always feel that Americans are the enemy, and that has become like a cancer that festers in his soul.
I can say that for the most part, the Cubans I interacted with during my visit were overwhelmingly warm and friendly, as well as appearing to be genuinely kind and content.
By contrast, I'm watching the Great Divide begin to destroy America from within, as perhaps it is destroying the world. It occurs to me that another dichotomy exists that is driving the Great Divide -- it is "the man on the step" vs "the man in the chair". Are you on the step or in the chair? Do you like to keep stirring the pot and tearing down those who don't think like you? Do you find joy in ridiculing those who don't vote like you, don't worship like you, don't think like you, and don't live like you? Has it become easy to disrespect elected officials? Or are you willing to reach out and touch and shoulder of an "enemy" or a foreigner? Are you empathetic towards the suffering of other humans or callous and uncaring?
The Great Divide is threatening our country and our world. We can choose to be mediators or we can choose to be agitators. We don't have to sacrifice our principles or our beliefs, but we must care more about the love for other humans than our political affiliation, our religious affiliation, or what place we call home. I am convinced that by doing this, we can bridge the Great Divide and make our love for humanity our priority again.