Nearly five hundred years since it was founded, the city of Havana retains a mythic aura that seduces both visitors and natives.
Its contrasts and diversity are unique and irreplaceable in any camera frame seeking to immortalize those tiny fragments of reality.
Fredy Landa therefore chooses to rise above the city and photograph from the particular vantage point that only being in the air can offer.
Landa graduated in electrical engineering in the late nineties, but quickly put that career aside for photography. This resulted in a life divided between the Cuban capital and Cancun, Mexico. In both locations he alternated between study and work, the latter mainly associated with tourism.
Back in Cuba, he had the the idea of combining photography with another of his great passions: model airplanes. Eager to put his idea to the test, Landa attached a camera to one of his models and sent it out over the outskirts of Havana. The first results were not favorable. “I started gathering all the information I could on the subject. Drones appeared and caught my interest especially because they were more stable and could take off from areas that didn’t necessarily need to be open spaces,” Landa told CubaPlus.
At that point he decided to start building them himself as they could not be brought into the country at the time. He began doing other tests with stabilizers for the camera. Landa remembers with accurate detail the hours he spent studying and working in 2013, the year he met filmmaker Alejandro Perez.
“During the first phase I worked on my own with the occasional help of a colleague. As I reached a critical point on the stabilization my two friends Sergio Pérez and Alejandro Pérez joined me,” he explains.
Knowing the producer opened doors to the audiovisual world, music video in particular, and he began to draw the attention of several artists and directors.
His aerial scenes caused enough furor for the Van Van, Olga Tañón, Gente de Zona and Marc Anthony to call.
Reformed under the name Destiny Productions in 2014 the group decided to get into tourism, and the first to hire them was the Cubanacan travel agency.
“We didn’t have the right camera for [what they wanted.] Luckily we were able to import a drone with the collaboration of the Model Aircraft Club and the Cuban Institute of Civil Aeronautics. It took pictures and had a ground reference we could reframe the picture in, something very advantageous for what we intended to do.”
At a working session in Remedios, in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, the team met the Minister of Tourism and discussed the possibility of taking pictures from the rooftops of the emblematic town.
Since then classic videos of locations and tourist destinations across the country have been revamped with sensational aerial images, including Remedios itself as well as Viñales and Soroa in the western province of Pinar del Río.
For Landa every new venture is an opportunity to build through photography a passion that over time has extended to his teammates.
Together they explore the possibility of achieving unique perspectives, almost always from above, on wellknown sites such as the Hotel Nacional or the Morro fortress.
“We wanted to change one of Havana’s most widespread and iconic images – the lighthouse and the part of the Morro fortress seen from the coastline, from the Malecón. We wanted to do the reverse, put the building in the foreground.”
That perspective gave rise to unique photographs that formed part of the group’s first exhibition.
That gratifying experience enticed them to experiment with other architectural icons such as the Havana Cathedral. An even more ambitious project saw them portray the south-central city of Cienfuegos, distinguished by its almost-perfect uniform layout. “In each case, whether we’re working on our own or with an agency or tour group, we prefer not to resort to stereotypes and exploit the Cuban historical, architectural and cultural values.”
For now, they are producing so-called virtual tours, with photos of the community of Las Terrazas, and a photographic project entitled Mi Havana Cenital, My Zenithal Havana.
“Obviously it will be from a zenithal perspective from rooftops and city streets, exploiting all its diversity: some rooftops red, others brown, others blue. Some in good condition and some not, so that bringing them together resembles a painting, almost a color and contrast test in the end.”
Landa dreams of going back to Havana early in the morning or in the evening light to play with the shadows that emerge from human activity, of each passing pedestrian.
While the flights may be tedious to organize, the results emphasize the charms of a happy and photogenic city.