Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Cubans edit identification photographs to defeat tropical heat and humidity


It was not yet 10am, but Juan Carlos Espinosa was sweating when he exited his Soviet-era Lada sedan in front of a photography studio in the middle-class Havana neighborhood of 10 de Octubre.

With temperatures in the high-20s and humidity lying thick over the city, Espinosa wore a black T-shirt as he posed for a visa photograph in front of a white sheet. Then, in a side room, Lian Marrero worked magic: digitally cutting away the T-shirt with a photograph-editing program and pasting in a somber black suit with a neatly knotted gray tie.

Marrero hit print and Espinosa had a set of three professional-looking identification photographs of himself in a suit that once belonged to a total stranger, or might have never existed at all.

Tens of thousands of Cubans stare out of identification photographs in elegant suits and dressy blouses they have never actually worn. Each imperceptibly altered photograph is a tiny tribute to Cubans’ finely honed ability to apply ingeniously home-brewed technical solutions to the problems of an island beset by economic scarcity.

In this case the problem is minor: how to look one’s best in official photographs when tropical heat, lack of air conditioning and tight family budgets make it highly impractical to wear dressy clothes to the local photography studio.

The answer: over-the-counter photograph-editing programs and an informal sharing network of photography studio owners who trade images of suits and blouses among themselves.

Marrero, a 27-year-old electrician who runs a busy photography studio in the front room of the home he shares with his wife, said they had offered clients actual clothing to try on, but people found it unappealing to wear clothes that others had been sweating in.

“We realized that people preferred the idea of digital suits,” he said. “We ended up with three real suits and 10 digital ones,” and eventually the shop got rid of the real clothes entirely.

The demand for altered photographs has diminished as more Cuban and foreign government agencies equip themselves with the ability to take in-house digital photographs. However, many foreign consulates still require visa applicants to bring their own head shots, and since few explicitly prohibit altering photographs, the digital suit business is still flourishing.

“Wearing a suit in Cuba isn’t easy,” Espinosa said. “Here, we have the ability to pick whichever one we want.”

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