Photography Exhibit by Jess Stiles
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credit: Jess Stiles
Since August 2020, Jess Stiles has lived in Rutherford, a place that she is proud to call home. Although she has only lived here for a few years, she has found many ways to give back to her community through volunteering her time and sharing her talents. This upcoming weekend, Jess will be presenting her photographs of Havana, Cuba in an exhibit in Rutherford. This is Rutherford spoke with Jess to learn more about her exhibit and how she supports and enhances the Borough of Rutherford.
TIR: Back in December you visited Havana, Cuba. Why did you decide to travel to Cuba and how long were you there?
Jess Stiles: I have always wanted to visit Cuba. I was drawn to the culture, the music and the food, along with the aesthetics of the architecture there. I was in Havana for five days where I stayed at an Airbnb.
TIR: As a photographer, you were able to document your visit through beautiful photos. What were some of your favorite spots to photograph?
JS: My favorite area to photograph was certainly Old Havana, but I found the most impactful area to be the Malecon, which is a roadway that runs along the waterfront in Centro Havana.
In Old Havana the architecture and the old way of living that the Cuban people are immersed in really standout, while along the Malecon you really get a sense of how time has affected the city, with buildings having crumbled from time, weather and a lack of supplies.
TIR: What did you learn about the culture and people of Cuba while you were there?
JS: Most of what I learned about Cuba on my trip was how hard they truly have it, and how time has left them behind. I was taken back at the fact that Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States, but it is truly like stepping back at least 50 years in time. I had no access to the internet, and learned that individuals have their own private WIFI connections that they carry with them.
The cost of items is very low going there as an American, but when the lack of money in their economy is taken into account, it's quite a high cost of living for the people there. I learned things about the cost of living there; for instance toilet paper is $2 USD per roll, and that they must buy 4 rolls at a time ($8 USD), while a meal accompanied by drinks was $21 USD which is 2800 pesos. This is shocking when finding out that the retired population only gets 1500 pesos per month. It's hard to fathom how they survive on that with these demands.
TIR: You are putting together a photo exhibition of your photos of Havana which will be displayed at the Rutherford Coffee Company on Park Ave. Why do you feel inspired to present this photo exhibit to the community?
JS: I was so moved by my experience and time in Havana and I wanted to share my experience in the best way I know how, through photography. I truly think that whoever has the ability to should travel to Cuba, or another place like it, at least once in life, if for nothing more than a great sense of perspective. It was a culture shock for me when I arrived there, and I can honestly say just as much of a shock coming back to the states after spending time there amongst the Cuban people.
TIR: What can people expect while attending the exhibit on January 27th at 7 pm at Rutherford Coffee Company?
JS: My photography will be on display and available for purchase, and there will be Cuban drinks and some small bites from a local Cuban restaurant. The cost will be $30 per person, and all proceeds will be donated to the Cuban people through an organization called, "Friends of Caritas Cuba" which has been helping to support the Cuban people for 25 years.
TIR: Your photography can also be seen framed in the newly renovated tunnel on Park Ave. Those photos were taken using a drone. What do you enjoy about drone photography?
JS: I love that drone photography allows me to view things from an entirely different perspective. I think perspective, whether from a different height, or in a different culture, is very important in life.
TIR: Can you tell us more about some of the ways you are involved in our community?
JS: I serve as Secretary on the Rutherford Pride Alliance board, as Treasurer on the Rutherford Arts Council Board, I am on the PrideFest committee board, and I am a member of the Mayor's Volunteer Committee.