Manuello Paganelli: Cuba, A Personal Journey 1989-2016

Feb 24, 2017
Photographer Spotlight

Los Angeles-based photographer Manuello Paganelli started traveling to Cuba in 1989 in search of his long-lost relatives living on the island. Manuello searched far and wide and ended up finding his family during his third trip to Cuba. It was not an easy journey, searching for the family he had not seen in years on an island with halted development and a phonebook from 1959. He was one of the few foreigners on the island and took images to document a rare glimpse into a country that few had seen. 

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It didn’t occur to Manuello to publish a book during those early years, nor did he anticipate that it was going to take him more than 25 years to accomplish it. The idea first entered his mind in the mid-90s, when many of his clients; Time, Forbes, and Vibe were already sending him on photo assignments to Cuba.

They began encouraging me to put together a book after I had my first solo photo exhibit on Cuba in 1995 and had a great reception. I remember how strange it was, people looking at my work during the opening night and asking lots of questions since nobody knew anything about Cuba at all.

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Manuello’s book, Cuba: A Personal Journey 1989-2016, contains over 115 black and white images documenting his journey and experiences in Cuba.

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Manuello’s main challenge during the process to get his book printed was experiencing trouble finding the right publisher. He partnered with New York Art Director Melanie McLaughlin and found a couple of publishing houses that seemed willing to cover the cost of publishing his book. All was going according to his plan until his last trip to New York to sign the contract for the book’s production. To Manuello's surprise, both declined to publish his book in black and white and told him that if he could sprinkle in a few color snaps, they could appeal to a wider market. The need for Manuello to include color shots and deviate from his vision effectively ended the book deal.

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This led Manuello to connect with Daylight Books, a North Carolina non-profit devoted to printing top-tier art photo books. He also brought on board the talent of veteran photo editor Jim Colton for editing, sequencing the book's images and choosing the front and back cover. Jim spent time reviewing over 1,000 images and narrowing them down to sequence a final 115. The book even featured a beautiful introduction by Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz of "I Love Lucy" in honor of her Cuban dad. She was a wonderful woman to work with, and Manuello has become friends with her.

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The book has received rave reviews including comments from The Washington Post, Fast Company, British Journal of Photography, and LensCulture, to name a few.

The Guardian Newspaper even named his book as one of the top 10 travel books to get for Christmas. Manuello has also done a few radio interviews for the book’s promotion. 

Manuello Paganelli photography, Wonderful Machine, Los Angeles photographer, reportage photography of cuba, cuba 2016, cuba portraiture, cuba a personal journey 1989-2016​​

Cuba: A Personal Journey 1989-2016 was a huge team effort. Many people contributed to the project, and without their help, the book wouldn't have been possible to complete. Manuello is currently doing a book tour across the country and working with a gallery in New York for a show. He hopes his next self-assigned project leads to another book, and that it hopefully does not take 25 years to finish!

See more of Manuello at manuellopaganelli.com.

Tags: cuba manuello paganelli reportage photography