AP Photo Editors Offer Behind the Scenes View of Pope’s Visit to Cuba

This past week, three Associated Press photo editors based in Mexico City – Anita Baca, Leslie Mazoch, and Tomas Stargardter – took over our Instagram feed to share photos and anecdotes related to Pope Francis’ historic trip to Cuba.

The editors shared some of their favorite images along with behind the scenes details of what it is like being on AP’s Latin American and Caribbean photo desk during a major news event. Below is a recap of the takeover broken into each editor’s section.



Photo Editor Anita Baca

Anita Baca is a photo editor for the AP’s Latin America and Caribbean photo desk in Mexico City. When Anita was 10 years old, she thought she wanted to be an architect, but then decided she was going to be a stay-at-home Mom and have 12 children. That idea didn’t last very long, either, and instead of raising children of her own, she thought it would be more interesting to study other people’s kids and embarked on a pre-med program specializing in developmental psychology. In the end, her love for photography led her to ditch the pre-med program. So began her photojournalism career as she cut her teeth at the college newspaper, The Daily Lobo, while stringing for the local evening paper, the Albuquerque Tribune. Soon thereafter, Anita joined the AP as a contract photographer in Central America during the quiet times, the early 90’s. After 10 years of living outside the U.S., Anita moved to the enemy state of Texas, working as a photo editor at the San Antonio Express-News. Opportunity came a-knocking and a job became available in Mexico City, which fit into a plan Anita had been hatching on how to get back to Latin America. She joined the desk in December of 2010.



Castro Meets Pope John Paul II

Generally speaking, papal visits are a big deal. But the pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998 was a HUGE deal. A frail-looking Pope John Paul II was met on the tarmac by Fidel Castro, the leader of a communist government that had once banned Catholic schools and sent priests, including the current archbishop of Havana to prison or work camps. And well, I missed it. It barely registers for me as I was busy nursing my newborn baby daughter in Nicaragua. I had given birth just nine days earlier. She’s 17 now and makes her own lunches. This time I will be fully tuned-in when Pope Francis arrives in Havana where he’ll find a more influential church since John Paul’s prophetic words during that historic visit, “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.” The serious work begins this Sunday starting at 7am, with all hands on deck. Just to give you an idea of how serious, on Sundays the LatAm photo desk in Mexico City usually opens at midday, and only for eight hours, with one photo editor. So you could say we are tripling our efforts.

AP Photo by Jose Goitia



Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s Patron Saint

This sort of picture goes into my mundane yet beautiful images’ file. They’re the ones that surprise me with their quiet, simple elegance and bring to the fore the behind the scenes of the making of big happenings. It’s so easy to forget about the anonymous worker bees who make these events seamless. The embroidery on the cassock represents the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint. While this version of the Virgin Mary is recognized by the Catholic Church, she is also adored by practitioners of Cuban Santeria, who associate her with the Yoruba deity Ochun, goddess of sweet water and gold. Pope Francis will be the third pontiff to make the trek to far-eastern Cuba to visit the religious icon. Unlike Pope John Paul II, Francis will visit the sanctuary in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra. During the historic 1998 papal visit the 16-inch figure was taken from its sanctuary and taken to Santiago de Cuba for a coronation ceremony, where John Paul placed a crown on the doll-sized statue, and then put an even smaller crown on the infant Jesus she bears in her arms.

AP Photo by Ramon Espinosa



Cubans Wait for the Popemobile

There was an agreement to post in the square format, but I have to break that promise for my last post, because I couldn’t bear to crop this image, yet I wanted to share with you the genius of Enric Marti’s photographic eye. @enricfmarti, a veteran photographer who cut his teeth working in conflict zones, is now the regional director of photography and was on the ground in Cuba for the papal visit. He mostly does administrative stuff, managing photographers and editors over a breadth of 30 countries, but every now and then he shoots too. It’s true that he is a genius, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss. This scene of residents waiting for the popemobile to ride past is a gem of a photo. It’s delightful, unexpected, genuine, and the framing is brilliant. Look at all those personalities. After so many images of Pope Francis I was happy to see an unchoreographed scene from the sidelines. It’s so easy to imagine being there in Holguin, watching from across the street. I can almost feel the rain that’s about to come down on them.

AP Photo by Enric Marti



Photo Editor Leslie Mazoch

Leslie Mazoch is the supervising photo editor at AP’s Latin America & Caribbean photo desk in Mexico City. Mazoch says that moving from the role of shooter to editor in 2007 opened up a new family of sorts for her: all the other region’s AP photographers. When based in Venezuela (2001-2007), she’d only met a handful of colleagues but now works with the entire regional team, which she calls one of the many pleasant surprises of the job. She wrote a blog post about her transition from the field to the office, titled Changing Perspectives. Before joining the AP, Mazoch was a shooter at The Brownsvilled Herald, a small U.S.-Mexico border paper. Previously, she interned at Newsday on Long Island and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a minor in Spanish, at the University of Texas at Austin where she photographed for the daily student newspaper The Daily Texan.



Santeria Ritual

This image stood out to me while editing a photo gallery by Ramon Espinosa @aprespinosa about the fusion of Catholic and African religions brought by slaves to the Caribbean centuries ago, known as Santeria. Afro-Cuban rituals are rich in pageantry and each person on this throne has a meaning. The woman at right in a white jumpsuit is pregnant, symbolizing life, on the throne made for the woman at center who’s going through a series of rituals to become a Yoruba priestess. Her mother sits at left, representing a woman who’s already given life. Her dress and crown are the very same color worn by Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity. In fact, one of her initiation rites includes praying to this Christian icon. It’s fascinating how spirituality in Cuba is expressed in many ways, where a variety of beliefs are accepted and mixed together in a country that for decades was officially an atheist state.

AP Photo by Ramon Espinosa



Virgin of Charity Nail Art

This image by Eduardo Verdugo @eduardoverdugot taken in rural Cuba caught my attention. First, I’m a sucker for female religious icons. I suspect it has to do with my doll collecting hobby and my appreciation for the many incarnations of the Virgin Mary as Christianity’s modern day Mother Earth. And get a load of those finger nails! Perfectly color-coordinated with the Virgin of Charity’s purple and gold robe. She’s the island’s patron saint, the protector of sailors and copper miners. She’s also the sister goddess to “Ochun,” the Afro-Cuban goddess of rivers, maternity and love. Long live the sisterhood!

AP Photo by Eduardo Verdugo



A Market Vendor Preps for Pope Francis

Thank you Alessandra Tarantino @alexiati00 for making my day! Alessandra’s based in Rome and has temporarily joined our Cuba photo team to cover the pope, at least her sixth trip with two pontiffs around the globe. As I edited her coverage this morning, I asked her if she was cool with my crop of one of her images. It was the second time I’d proposed a crop and asked to see an image without her crop. After seeing it, she answered: “Nice! You can crop everything you want! It’s an honor to be cropped by you!” It’s nice to be trusted with someone else’s work, but since it’s the photographer’s byline published with the photo, not mine, I believe it’s only right for them to sign-off on it. For me it’s also important to chip away at the “us vs. them” mentality of photographers and editors, and be the kind of editor I’d like to work with. The photo in question was a flag waving shot, but I prefer to share this daily life scene by Alessandra of a market vendor prepping onions hours before Pope Francis landed on Saturday. It’s as if the man is stepping out of the shadows, symbolic of Cuba reemerging as Havana and Washington reestablish relations. US tourists can finally visit this hidden treasure just miles off their own coast. It also suggests the mystery of hidden worlds and the secrets we all keep.

AP Photo by Alessandra Tarantino



Expressive Reaction to Francis 

LOVE the expression on this woman’s face, and her “hands-free” flags-in-hair look, captured by Desmond Boylan @desboylan. I was surprised to learn these women weren’t Cuban, but from Angola! They’re doing their residency at a hospital located along the pontiff’s route from Havana’s airport right after he first arrived in Cuba. After free medical school, they’ll return to their native Angola to practice. We’re at the culmination of day four of editing hundreds of images from a handful of photographers. Staffers, freelancers and pool photographers. Photos to the wire. Photos to the archive. Photos that never saw the light of day. It was a great exercise in working on fast-forward. Editing, caption writing, communicating with other formats. Now Francis in the U.S., where our colleagues are geared up to take on the second leg of his trip.

AP Photo by Desmond Boylan



Photo Editor Tomas Stargardter

Tomas Stargardter is a photo editor at AP’s Latin America & Caribbean photo desk in Mexico City. He was born in Costa Rica to a German father and Colombian mother. Stargardter started photography in boarding school, under the direction of a Benedictine monk, Father Gregory. As a teenager, he learned to appreciate the alchemy of black and white photography with Gregorian chants chiming in the background. From there, Stargardter joined the William Allen White School of Journalism in Lawrence Kansas and got his BS in photojournalism, and a Masters degree from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He worked for AP in Costa Rica as a contract photographer and then as a regional chief photographer for AFP in Central America. After that, Stargardter moved to Nicaragua and eventually ended up as Graphics Editor for LA PRENSA. He published his own own newspaper, an English language monthly in Managua. He is also a teacher, having taught Advanced Placement history courses, journalism and photojournalism in high school and college, but photojournalism still is his first love.



Reconstituted Christ

A nice metaphor for the return of the Catholic Church to communist Cuba.

spacerAP Photo by Desmond Boylan



Castro Meets Pope Francis 

This photo of Pope Francis and Fidel Castro was the shot. Everybody was waiting for it. It eclipsed the photo of Francis with Fidel’s brother and current president Raul.

AP Photo by Alex Castro



Fly-Away Cap

It seems that every time that the Pope arrives to a new country his skull cap flies away in the wind. Same thing happened in his last trip to South America. This time in Cuba was no different.

AP Photo by Ramon Espinosa



Seen but not Heard

They were seen but not heard. Despite the security efforts of what appeared to be thousands of plainclothes and uniformed security officers, two dissidents managed to make themselves known as the Pope arrived for a Mass at Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The two men were wrestled to the ground by security officers as they yelled and tried to throw leaflets into the air. Nobody managed to hear what they where saying, or read what were on their leaflets they tried, in vain, to distribute.

AP Photo by Ramon Espinosa



See more photos of Pope Francis in Cuba


Follow Anita Baca | Twitter | Instagram

Follow Leslie Mazoch  | Twitter | Instagram

Follow Tomas Stargardter | Instagram


Spotlight is the blog of AP Images, the world’s largest collection of historical and contemporary photos. AP Images provides instant access to AP’s iconic photos and adds new content every minute of every day from every corner of the world, making it an essential source of photos and graphics for professional image buyers and commercial customers.  Whether your needs are for editorial, commercial, or personal use, AP Images has the content and the expert sales team to fulfill your image requirements. Visit apimages.com to learn more.



Written content on this site is not created by the editorial department of AP, unless otherwise noted. 



AP Images on Twitter | AP Images on Facebook | AP Images on Instagram




2 thoughts on “AP Photo Editors Offer Behind the Scenes View of Pope’s Visit to Cuba

  1. Beautiful and real life photos. You can tell it’s a special event. I am Desmond Boylan!s uncle so I have a special interest. I can see where Cuba will be a bigger art center in the future. P?B.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: