a man smoking with friends in his one room home in Old Havana

“Está cayendo – it’s falling down.” This was the answer I invariably received when I asked the residents of Old and Central Havana about their homes.

These photographs are born from my desire to see what living inside the crumbling grandeur of Havana’s buildings looks like. I knocked on doors and begged permission to photograph the residents and the interiors of their homes. I photographed inside almost a hundred different homes. Most of the homes I visited are in Old Havana.

Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. Since this date many buildings have been restored and the work continues but the emphasis is always on preserving key buildings rather than improving or saving the lives of the general population. While certain buildings are done up to a high standard the vast majority of the homes remain in a dangerous state.

Age, decay, neglect, over-crowding and amateur repairs combine with natural factors to threaten the stability of Havana’s Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings. There are two or three partial or total building collapses in Old and Central Havana every week. Residents have no choice but to continue to live in buildings that have partially collapsed.

Cuba has a high life expectancy, a 99.8% literacy rate, free education at every level and free health care for all its citizens, but the government still struggles to provide citizens with safe and comfortable housing.

Despite the condition of the buildings, most of the homes I visited were filled with personal, social, cultural and religious clues about their occupants. Most were also filled with vibrant colours, mementos, belongings, beloved pets and human warmth and spirit.

Alison McCauley


About the photographer:
Alison McCauley is a Geneva-based documentary photographer.  Among other projects, she is currently documenting the lives of asylum seekers in Geneva. Alison has a fine arts background and holds degrees from the University of Southampton, the Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design in Geneva and the Open College of the Arts.  She is an associate of the Royal Photographic Society and a member of the international collective Street Photographers.