N.Y. Daily News
April 14, 2002

Photos of Cuban spirit give N.Y.ers an isle seat

When freelance photographer Cynthia Carris Alonso went to Cuba for the first time in 1992, her assignment was to take pictures of musicians for a German record company.

"I had photographed a rumba group from Cuba that was [performing] in Harlem," she says, "and I was fascinated to learn more about a country that was illegal for Americans to travel to."

She fell in love with the island and traveled there often that year. And among the souvenirs she brought back was a new artistic direction and a Havana-born husband.

She also came home with a deep appreciation for what she calls "the soaring and incredible Cuban spirit."

Nearly 12 years, several more trips and thousands of pictures later, Carris Alonso has made a second career out of chronicling Cuban culture and capturing that spirit on film. Her colorful, vibrant photographs have been exhibited in the U.S., Canada and Brazil.

Her latest exhibit, "Cuba Vista," is at Portfolio restaurant in Manhattan through May 31. The Italian eatery, at 4 W. 19th St., regularly displays photography as part of the decor.

Most of the images in "Cuba Vista" depict Cuban people in positive, artistic poses - a dancer at the famed Tropicana club, a tattooed model brandishing a cigar, musicians performing and brightly-costumed revelers honoring Santería gods.

Yet Carris Alonso says she has been criticized by anti-Castroites who see her pretty pictures as glossing over how hard life really is under communist rule.

"My photographs are not about the positive vs. the negative, or capitalism vs. communism," says Carris Alonso, who has also covered hard news stories on the island.

Working for such magazines as Newsweek, she documented Pope John Paul's historic visit to Cuba in 1998 and the damage wrought by Hurricane Lilly two years earlier.

"My goal is to share the colors, customs and rhythms of Cuba with people who are unable to experience them and with people who already know and value them," says Carris Alonso.

"The photos represent their incredible and vibrant spirit that is an inspiration in spite of such dire living conditions and difficult economic times."