Theory & Practice

Behind the Image: David Alan Harvey’s Work Horse on a Family Porch

How David Alan Harvey's search for a morning coffee yielded an iconic image

David Alan Harvey

David Alan Harvey A work horse is kept on a family's porch overnight. Trinidad, Cuba, 1998. © David Alan Harvey | Magnum Photos

Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey was looking for his morning coffee, coming back from an early dawn shoot, when he came across a white horse on a pink porch. Here, he recounts the Cuban scene and how he made this iconic photograph.

What is happening in this photograph?

I was working on a long term-project in Cuba, so naturally I was always looking for subject matter where I could tell a story specific to Cuba. This working horse, used for farming, spoke a lot about the Cuban way of life.  Most of the local farmers here in Trinidad actually lived in town, yet they had no stables to keep horses. So this farmer kept his on the front porch, shackled by his front legs, so he would not wander away.

What was happening outside the frame?

Outside of this picture were the city streets of historic Trinidad, the launching point for Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes into the Americas. I was looking, as always, for people pictures. This was a bit of an anomaly.

If you hadn’t taken this shot, what would you have been doing instead at that precise moment? 

I actually went to this part of the city early in the morning to shoot fishing boats coming in. As I was leaving the fishing scene, walking away, I saw this and thought it quite odd. Yet the light was magical and a white horse on a pink porch seemed perfect in its juxtaposition. I always shoot before I think too much about the “why?” of it. I only learned more about the working lives of the farmers after I shot the picture.

Tell us a secret about this image?

The secret is that I was disappointed for not getting any fishing pictures. I only shot this very casually and briefly on my way to find some coffee. After I had taken just a very few transparency film shots, the farmer came out, unshackled the horse, and rode away. It all happened in less than a minute. Yet this is typical. I never know what I am going to see. I am often searching for one thing but find another.