We caught up with photographer Matt Gee to talk about a recent trip to Cuba that left his Instagram feed covered in multi-hued shots of Havana’s most colorful residents — vintage cars.
Could you tell me about your background as a photographer?
I grew up loving photography. When I was younger, I always had a point-and-shoot camera with me, but it was really only a casual hobby.
When Instagram became a thing, it really inspired me to get into photography more — once I got the app and began using it casually, as everyone does, I started to see people posting nicer photos. I knew I wanted to do that too. So I just started going out with my iPhone to take pictures and explore nearby places — that’s what really propelled me into doing it full time.
What made you decide to visit Cuba?
I had been wanting to visit the country for two or three years. Once I started hearing that people were able to travel there, I saw pictures floating around on the Internet and thought, Gosh, that looks like such an interesting place. I also feel like Cuba has such an air of mystery to a lot of people; there are a lot of unknowns. That appealed to me — it was sort of like this forbidden place that not many actually get to visit.
Did you go in with a “photography plan,” so to speak, or did you just try to be spontaneous?
In Havana, I knew that there would be an incredible opportunity to photograph the cars and streets of the city, so I went in with visual expectations. But I wouldn’t say that I went in with a lot of photographic research — I really just wanted to document what I saw. That’s a style that I’ve embraced in the last couple of months, and one that I’m still working on. I used to shoot a lot more landscapes and natural subject matter, which I still love and enjoy, but I’ve been trying to focus on capturing what it’s like to go to a place, the feeling of being there, the sights one sees while walking the streets, the interactions with the local people, and so on.
In essence, I wanted to soak up the culture of Cuba and capture the spirit of Havana’s streets at six thirty in the morning, before all of the tourists descended. When I actually got there, I experienced sensory overload in the best way possible, a feeling I tried to capture in my images.
As a photographer, how does color impact your work?
A consistent theme in my photography is color — I’m definitely not afraid to shoot color or share things that are colorful. I’m also very naturally attracted to the hues found in landscapes, so as I began to photograph urban areas more, seeing a pop of orange or blue on a wall or a colorful pattern and pulling out my camera was a pretty natural response for me. I gravitate toward these different hues, so visiting Cuba was incredible in a creative sense, for me — there were splashes of color everywhere.
Why did you decide to put your colorful car photos into a grid?
During my first few days in Havana, I took three to five photos of car corners. I didn’t think much of it, and it wasn’t meant to be anything special; I was just shooting. After taking a few of them, I put them in an album in my camera roll. They were all this beautiful deep-blue color, and I thought that they looked really interesting together, like a photo collage. I decided to take a few more, to gather a few more colors so they would showcase a spectrum. And honestly, I just got addicted to the process; I wanted to do more and more, and then I decided to try to get 50 of them. As I found more cars, I put them in the album and organized them by hue. I started to see where there were gaps — for example, it was difficult to find oranges and greens. So, by the last few days of the trip, I was on a mission — it had evolved into a personal project and challenge. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the photos when I came home, but I liked the idea of having an objective while I was there, to not only shoot what I was seeing, but to capture one specific element and do it really well.
By the end of the trip, I think I had about 100 photos. I did frequent some of the same spots, and when I was editing on the plane ride home, I realized that I had a few duplicates because the cars had been parked in the same spot and hadn’t been moved, which was kind of funny. After I put it in a collage, I shared it with my fellow travelers and their reaction was really positive! When people look at the final image, many think they’re all of the same car and that I’ve just manipulated the color, which I can understand because I tried to keep the angle consistent, but they’re actually all different cars!
Would you say that travel impacts your photography or would you say that photography impacts your travel?
I definitely evolve as a photographer when I travel to new places. I think that if I had gone to Cuba three years ago, I would’ve either not taken many photos or I would’ve shot entirely differently because I wasn’t looking at the world around me the way I do now. That’s really an eye-opener for me: to know that I can go to a place like Cuba, which doesn’t have the landscape that I’m used to photographing (mountains, desert, etc.), feel really comfortable capturing everyday life, and actually enjoy the process. I think that may be indicative of my evolution as a photographer.
I also feel more comfortable shooting in a wider variety of places than I did just a few years ago, so I think in that regard, travel definitely has impacted and expanded my photography. Now, while I’m home, I love getting out, seeing as much as I can, and photographing new places — in this way, my camera has impacted my sense of adventure. The two ideas definitely work in tandem.
Is there a specific theme you like to convey through your photos?
I try to be as authentic as I can through my photography. It sounds kind of cliché, but what I really mean is that I try to simply capture what’s around me and not force scenes. I want to shoot what I’m seeing and do it artistically, consistently, and with a really beautiful aesthetic — even if I’m just snapping a simple scene, like someone walking down a street in Havana in front of a brightly colored wall. I always want to make sure that my photographs evoke minimalism, and at the same time, I want to be sure that I’m documenting my surroundings in a genuine light — that sense of realness is extremely important to me.