The Cuban Butcher

October 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment




Cuban Butcher & FriendsA group of men butcher and sell off a whole pig on the porch of a house in Trinidad, Cuba.


It's hard work for an athlete like me to carry a cold beer around in the humidity of a Cuban summer so you can imagine how I struggle with a heavy camera bag. To stay for two hours as the temperature soared and the humidity sapped my ambition was a feat in itself for me. But to come away with this image was a huge reward for my patience. I love it. I think there's something a bit 'Last Supper' about it.

I got lucky with this shot but I kind of made my luck and it was a reward for patience. If I hadn't crossed the street and looked back I would have missed it. I had met the butcher the previous evening, on the same steps, as he sold off the last scraps of pork to passers by. He said that if I came back the following morning he would have a whole pig and would be butchering it there, on the front steps of his house. 

The next morning I wandered in the quiet back streets of Trinidad looking for the house. It took a while to find it and when I did there was no one there. I knocked on the door expecting nothing but heard a noise as someone approached the door. A very old lady opened the door, looked me up and down then closed it again without a word. Moments later she was back, holding a chair and motioning to me to sit on the porch. 

Eventually a horse and cart turned into the street driven by two young boys and pulled up in front of the house. I could see the pig, dead, in the back of the cart. The butcher and his friends had followed on foot and now lifted the pig out and, with a mighty struggle, managed to get it up onto the table that would serve as a block. 


The Butcher's BoysTwo boys and a dead pig on a cart in Trinidad, Cuba.


For the next two hours I just watched and photographed as the pig slowly became prime cuts and scraps. My brothers both used to work in the village butcher where I grew up so it wasn't so much the pig that interested me but the scene itself, the characters in the scene, their respective roles in the process and the way they worked together as if they'd done this a thousand times. 


Portrait of a Cuban ButcherA sharp knife makes short work of this pig


I don't speak any Spanish and the butcher's team didn't speak any English but there are some things that you don't need language for. Humour is shared and I could see that these men enjoyed doing what men everywhere enjoy doing; extracting the Michael out of each other, ganging up, jocular victimisation. It's probably male bonding and despite the language gap I found myself laughing along. I'm pretty sure that they were ganging up on the chap in the red shirt and that it was about money. Red shirt found it hilarious anyway and I think in the image at top they are handing him a fake bill; perhaps one they knew he couldn't pay even if it were real. 


Red Shirt The butcher begins to play with Red Shirt. The others soon joined in but Red Shirt was laughing his head off.


After a good couple of hours the heat became too much for me. It was 11am, I was hungry, hot, sweaty and excited about the haul of images I had just made. A cold beer was calling me from my favourite corner bar and I was too tired to resist so I said my thank you's and goodbyes and made my way back into town for hot pizza and a cold one or two.


The Cheap CutsSorting out the scraps of pork


I don't have much to say about the technical aspect here. All the images were made in manual mode on a Nikon D3x, 1/125th @ f/4 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, and ISO 400. To be able to fully concentrate on a subject I make sure my camera is set up to deliver so I am not fiddling and faffing when I should be recording. I know my pictures will be sharp at 1/125th sec. I know f/4 gives just enough depth of field on a wide lens setting and a pleasing rendition of backgrounds at the longer end. That just leaves ISO to dial in. Easy peasy. What about white balance? I find Nikon's Auto WB to be incredibly accurate so I almost exclusively use that under unchanging, open shade. I shoot RAW anyway so it's just to give me the correct feeling on the cameras LCD as I'm shooting. 



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