Photographer Ruber Osoria hails from Contramaestre in Santiago de Cuba on the east end of the fabled island, a town that gets its name from the river whose waters nourished three of the most influential men in Cuban history: Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, known as “Father of the Fatherland” for his actions during the Cuban War of Independence; revolutionary philosopher and political theorist José Martí; and Fidel Castro.
Born in 1992, Osoria is the only child of a single mother and farmer. “I spend my entire childhood at my mother’s farm where she grew corn, potatoes, bins, cassava and pumpkin, and also raised chickens, ducks and one or two pigs occasionally,” he recalls. “My first toys were plants and animals. I had a happy childhood until one day a hurricane devastated our home.”
Growing up, Osoria surrounding himself with poets, musicians, rockers, rappers, and muralists. He explains, “I’ve always been immersed in the constant search for an element that would allow me to express the feelings burning inside me: the fact that my father abandoned me when I was a baby, my grandpa and other family members emigrating to the United States, and the loss of my home.”
Osoria first picked up the camera when a local rock band Metastasis invited him to travel across Cuba and document their performance at music festivals including Sounds of the City, Rock de la Loma, and Metal Hg. “It was pure intuition,” he says. “At the time I knew nothing about photography. I let myself go, my finger against the old shutter of a Sony camera that looks like it was about to die.”
On a Mission
Osoria found the perfect medium to express himself but he lacked the funds to buy the equipment he needed to master the art. “I was a photographer without a camera,” he says. Necessity being the mother of invention, Osoria found a way. He saved his money so he could visit an Internet café and study photography online. “Once, I read about the frame and composition, I took a rectangle of cardboard and walked the streets looking for every picture I thought was good enough and I framed them, in that way, I was always training the eye,” he says.
When his family came to visit from the U.S., they gave Osoria an iPhone 6, which became his very first camera. Hungering for more, in 2018 Osoria made the radical decision to emigrate from his homeland for the sole objective of working to buy a camera. “I sold all my belongings to get out of Cuba,” he says.
Osoria did not have a fixed path. “At that time I thought that every country was better than Cuba,” he says. From June 28 through July 19, Osoria set out on what would become a 4,000-mile journey across Latin America. His first stop was Georgetown, Guyana, a country where Cubans do not need a visa so this has become the main departure route for émigrés heading to the U.S.
Via app, he connected with a group trafficking people through Guyana and Brazil. “They asked me for my passport and took a picture to send it to the people I was going to meet along the way. They also asked me for $1,400 dollars; I had $2,250 all over my body, in my shoes, pants, et cetera. I arrived in Lethem, Guyana, very nervous and scared,” Osoria says, recalling stories of migrants being robbed, murdered, and killed for their organs.
From Guyana, traffickers brought Osoria to the border of Brazil. He traveled from across Brazil and Peru, before ending up in Chile. It was a difficult journey, one that involved being abandoned in the desert, being both physically and verbally abused. “Walking through the desert I saw my entire life pass in front of my eyes, from my childhood to my adulthood,” Osoria recalls. “I couldn’t suffer any longer the danger and fear I faced through this trip. I don’t know how Latin Americans get through this hell and have the courage to get to the U.S. I decided to stay in Chile with no money and no place to stand the night.”
Lost and Found
Osoria spent his first night in Chile in jail. The next morning, they gave him a document he had to present for signature every Friday to the international police and wait for the expulsion for illegal entrance to the country. In an immigration office, Osoria met a Venezuelan woman who brought him to a migrant’s house in Concepcion, Chile.
“In the migrant’s house, the father took pity on me and took me to a refugee church, where Ecuadorians, Haitians, and Venezuelans lived together,” says Osoria, who lived in the church for six months. He secured a lawyer who helped him obtain a visa and a job. He saved his money to finally achieve his dream, purchasing his first camera, a Sony Alpha 58.
Osoria immediately took to the streets to take photographs, finding the beauty and mystery buried beneath the banal and quotidian moments of daily life. “One of the things I feel more attracted to is the strong presence of melancholy, sadness, that feeling of being present and nobody else is noticing your presence, to be or not to be,” he says.
“I walk around the street, photographing strangers at such close range, searching for transcendence inside the fading gestures, ephemeral glances, and temporary moments of connection that flow through the streets in the fleeting dance of the lights, colors, shadows and human presence. I’m fascinated by the infinitesimal symbols of emotional life, the innermost being of people even in the most public spaces.”
Now settled in Chile with a family of his own, Osoria’s passion for photography inspired him to risk it all in search of a place he could call home. This year, Osoria became a permanent resident of Chile, an experience that has shaped his vision and mission as a photographer. “This act was proof that we are able to realize all our dreams,” Osoria says about his journey. “No matter how hard it is or how long it can take, we have to have faith and fight for it.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including Time, Vogue, Aperture, and Vice, among others.