Inside Michael Chinnici's 'Vanishing Cuba'

Words by
Sphere Editors
Photography by
Michael Chinnici

22nd May 2024

Michael Chinnici's 'Vanishing Cuba' brims with over 300 images capturing the depths of Cuba in its past, present and future. Sharing a glimpse into the book, we display a selection of the images accompanied by Chinnici's own commentary as he wraps us into the thought process behind each compelling shot. 

American photographer, Michael Chinnici's love affair with Cuba has been sparked over the course of his 24 trips to the ever-changing island. Now curated into a visual storytelling with Vanishing Cuba, exhibiting Chinnici's aim of capturing the very "Soul of Cuba" through a lens. Featuring over 300 images out of the tens of thousands that he took, we see how Chinnici explored the spirit of the people and places in their most natural and authentic state. This vibrant coffee table book bursts with colour, enveloping readers in Cuba's past. As well as the change faced by the country as it emerges from over 60 years of isolation, looking onto both its present and future.

A Selection from Michael Chinnici's Vanishing Cuba

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - In the zone
In the Zone, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Old Havana, Cuba in 2013

Chilling, in Cuba, is a national pastime when one is not working. I was exploring the streets of Old Havana when I stepped into what appeared to be a vacant building. To my surprise, it wasn’t vacant, because in Havana you never really know what is occupied and what isn’t. That’s where I found this gentleman having a smoke. We exchanged glances, and he watched as I photographed him. We exchanged nods, and I bade him farewell. I often show people the photos I’ve taken of them, but with him, I just let him be, in his moment, in his space.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - bread lady
Bread Lady. © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Trinidad, Cuba in 2016

Fresh bread, made daily, is a staple food in most developing countries. Every morning in Cuba, at the crack of dawn, you can hear delivery boys singing “pan, pan, pan” (bread, bread, bread). I captured this image outside the home of a residential baker in Trinidad. I immediately loved the composition of the handmade delivery bicycle sitting in front of the house. When the owner came to the doorway wearing a purple blouse, I knew it was time to take the shot.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - deep in thought
Deep in Thought, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Trinidad, Cuba in 2015

I met this young girl in a rural section of Trinidad. This neighborhood is so impoverished that it didn’t even have running water or indoor plumbing until recently. She comes from extreme poverty, even by Cuban standards. When I took her photo, I was struck by her expressionless face as she hugged the tattered doll in her arms. I feel many emotions about this image, from my memory of taking it to its impact on me to this day.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - cuban repair shop
Cuban Repair Shop, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Central Havana, Cuba in 2016

When I saw this glowing red car in front of these decaying structures, I knew I had to take the shot. In Cuba, new car dealerships are nonexistent, as are car repair centers. Parts are hard to find. On occasion, you may see a small repair shop at someone’s home. More than sixty years of a declining economy, reliance on foreign subsidies, and the American embargo have forced Cubans to be incredibly resourceful. They learn to repair just about everything. Whether in a small town or a big city, the street is often a Cubano’s repair shop.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - a room with a view
A Room with a View, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Vedado, Cuba in 2017

As she gazes out the window reliving her performances in Beijing, Buenos Aires, Paris, Lima, and Cairo, a feeling of happiness fills her heart. Mercy Piedra is a veteran ballerina with the Cuban National Ballet, dancing and traveling internationally for over 20 years. I’ve had the pleasure of photographing Mercy on numerous occasions, including this early morning sunlight-drenched scene in the Semana Santa bedroom of my friend Josephine’s home in Havana.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - all smiles
All Smiles, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Central Havana, Cuba in 2019

While walking Central Havana, I connected with these three beautiful Afro-Cubans just hanging out, sipping rum, and enjoying the day. I never found out if they were brother and sisters, mother and daughter, or just friends. It didn’t seem to matter. I was too caught up in enjoying their beautiful smiles and welcoming good nature. I love the way you can sense their inner beauty. Quintessential Cuban charm and hospitality. I love this image in black and white. It brings out all the rich textures in their clothing and the surrounding environment.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - the man the cross and the shadow
The Man, The Cross and The Shadow, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Trinidad, Cuba in 2019

He walks with a sense of sadness and perhaps a heavy heart. Sixty-plus years of Revolution haven’t exactly created the opportunities he had hoped for, or those he was promised. The cross wasn’t even something he could hold onto—a symbol of faith that was restricted by the communist government after the Revolution. Shadows are a symbol of passing light, a reminder of each passing day. Yet in Cuba, the glass is never half empty; it is always half full. Always keeping the faith for better days ahead.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - fidel and the headless woman
Fidel and the Headless Woman, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Central Havana, Cuba in 2014

As you enter La Guarida, Havana’s most famous paladar (in-home restaurant), you must pass under a magnificently carved Baroque-style doorway. This grand entrance greets you like a scene out of a 1940s film noir. A decapitated statue at the bottom of a grand but decaying staircase leads up past lines of drying clothes to a wooden door on the third floor, behind which lie many amazing culinary surprises. As you walk up the staircase, you can read Fidel Castro’s famous revolutionary rallying cry, “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death).

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - exotic beauty
Exotic Beauty, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Old Havana, Cuba in 2019

Exotic Dayle in Old Havana. She’s a mix of Spanish, Chinese, American Indian, and Indian.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - sweet watermelon
Sweet Watermelon, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Vinales Valley, Cuba in 2018

On a beautiful September day, I was hiking and photographing Viñales Valley when these farmers walked clear across the field to hand me a large piece of watermelon. It was so sweet. No words were spoken, just a smile and a beautiful gesture. That’s Cuban hospitality. You’ll find it in both the big city and the countryside.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - Vanishing Sun
Vanishing Sun, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Central Havana, Cuba in 2019

Yet another breathtaking sunset over Havana’s Malecón, the 5-mile sea wall that protects the city from the wrath of the Atlantic Ocean. Every night is another opportunity to capture a magical moment. On this particular evening, the sky came alive with beautiful hues of purple, magenta, pink, red, orange, and yellow. And the light falling on the buildings set them ablaze with reds and oranges. It’s a night I’ll never forget.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - the ballerina
The Ballerina, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Vedado, Cuba in 2017

Cuban National Ballet ballerina Patricia Santamarina Roca poses at a window in the early-morning light. At a young age, Patricia has achieved great success performing for the ballet. Watching her perform at the Gran Teatro de La Habana would have been a dream come true, but our schedules never coincided. Her immense talent allowed her to soar to the top at a very young age, offering her the opportunity to perform in major cities throughout the world.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - Bullet Nose
Bullet Nose, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Old Havana, Cuba in 2016

The 1951 Studebaker “Bullet Nose.” A rare find in Cuba—or anywhere in the world. The lines on this car are nothing short of stunning. The details are even more beautiful. And there’s nothing better than coming across a rare and unique American Classic while walking the Spanish Colonial streets of Havana. I loved photographing this beauty from above. A simple twist of the camera, and just the right angle, helps bring energy to the image. Showing only a portion of the hood creates a little mystery. Ahhhh, Cuba.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - Morning Bliss
Morning Bliss, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in the Escambray Mountains, Cuba in 2017

While on an early morning drive along the southern coast of Cuba, I came across this wonderful view of low-lying fog across the valley. We were on our way from Cienfuegos to Trinidad. The beautiful Escambray Mountains can be seen in the background beyond the nearby rolling hills. It was such a magical moment. It was like a painting. Everything is more peaceful and beautiful when you head out early.

Michael Chinnici Vanishing Cuba - Sunrise on the Malecon
Sunrise on the Malecon, © Michael Chinnici, Photographed in Havana, Cuba in 2017

A red Soviet-era Moskvitch cruises past on the Malecón at dawn.

Vanishing Cuba by Michael Chinnici is now available in a Silver Edition, Deluxe Edition and the collector series Reserve Edition - limited to only 300 copies. Learn more and purchase the book via