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All images by Théo de Gueltzl

Work / Photography

Globe-trotting photographer Théo de Gueltzl’s view of Cuba

CSM graduate Théo de Gueltzl lives the life of riley. We found out about the Parisian-born photographer (and model) when he emailed us his portfolio. Since then, we’ve been whiling away our commute on his Instagram feed, a sigh-inducing stream of tropical landscapes shot around the globe. Théo is currently in Colombia, but his website reveals stints in Mexico, Belize, Cuba, Fiji, India and Cambodia.

Sitting among our favourite images on Théo’s website are his shots of the male members of a farming community in Belize. Decked out in denim dungarees, shirts with over-sized collars and threadbare straw cowboy hats, Théo captures a cast of fair-haired teenage boys not far out of childhood as they pose in awkward intimation of their fathers. But it was Théo’s images of Cuba which told a different story of a country so often captured by visiting tourists. We spoke to Théo to find out more about his life and work.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I grew in Paris with a dad in love with art and photography. I left for the first time in 2011 to go study Fine Art at Central Saint Martins. I am now 23 years old and have a lot of trouble defining what would “living somewhere” means for me. I like to think that my home is moving along with me, wherever I go.  

What have you been up to since you graduated from CSM?

After three years spent in university my biggest wish was to take off on an adventure without a real destination or a return ticket. I have trouble staying for too long in the same place. I got the bug of travelling, moving, discovering. Right after my graduation I went back to Paris with the idea to prepare a road trip across South America. I was then working as a set designer’s assistant, mainly for fashion. After six months, I took off to Los Angeles where I bought a 1993 Toyota truck, in which I built a wooden structure to fit a mattress for a life on the road. I started my trip going south, spend some months in Baja California, Mexico, where I met my dog Puca, and I have been travelling with her ever since. Together we drove through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, until Panama. There I shipped my car across the Panama Canal to Cartagena in Colombia, drove it to the desert of La Guarija Alta, to the northern tip of South America before driving down to Bogota where I settled. I will be staying here for about a year. I have now a studio there where I work on future exhibitions and projects. I’m already looking forward to getting back on the road. 

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How does travelling influence your work?

I’ve listened to so many people telling me their dream of traveling, of exploring the world, of escaping their daily routine. It happens too fast that one gets stuck in their own life. Your dreams are held back by financial responsibilities, may it be the mortgage payments of your home, the aftershock of a divorce, or simply the fact that you have to pay rent. The irony is that we get wrapped up in these financial responsibilities because we follow the dream image of modern society. To buy the house you always wanted, to maintain a high standard of living, to support your family etc, you need financial wealth – you’ll basically work until you’re retired. I feel like these mechanisms of society prevent us from following our individual dreams, which exceed having a pretty house and a successful career. Travelling is one of the biggest life lessons. I think it should be a mandatory part of education. Only through my travel I have learnt to adapt myself to any kind of situation. You become a sort of chameleon. You leave your routine and your daily life behind. Suddenly you don’t have these little daily habits anymore. The sort of habits that used to affirm and comfort you. We easily create dependencies and habits, which become the conditions of our happiness, which makes it automatically trickier to reach this happiness. You’re always missing something.

Your portrait of Cuba feels very separate from the images we usually see of the country. What interested you most about the place?

I have always been fascinated by the fact that it was never really touched by globalisation or capitalism since 1959. Because of the communist orientation of Fidel Castro’s government and the United States embargo, the culture stayed intact. No huge development plan was put on to the island by multinational, nothing that we are used to see in our everyday life, living in “developed” countries, exist in Cuba. A place without public publicity for example sounds impossible in a country like France or the United States. It almost sounds like a dream. Ironic, or not? I have seen happiness and poverty living together, face-to-face, fighting each other. Through my photographs I really wanted to show the people and their relation to the environment, an environment that more the days were passing more it felt like a prison. A prison they were born in, without anyway out, without an actual door. Looking out of the window from the cell, you will only see the endless horizon, impassable walls.

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