Although the photo project started out as a traditional news story, a chance encounter his final night on the island — at the house of a person he had hired to help with his travels — changed everything.
"I was there at my fixer's house for dinner, and we heard this bass thumping through his walls," Kahn says. "You could tell it wasn't coming from inside the building. It was outside somewhere."
After dinner, he ducked out to see what was going on. Around the corner, he discovered a plaza where more than a thousand Cubans were dancing to music from several DJs elevated on a giant stage.
"They were playing the hits of today, like electronic music and things that I was hearing currently in the U.S.," he says. "It really kind of stuck out as something that I hadn't seen while I was there."
Kahn photographed the block party and promised himself he'd return. Over the next five years, he made six trips to Cuba and met dozens of young DJs, dancers, and artists from the country's millennial generation. The resulting photos are compiled in Kahn's first book, Havana Youth, which was released earlier this month.
Fashion was the most visible form of self-expression he encountered on the island. With no exposure to brand advertising and limited access to the internet, young Cubans had a style all their own.
"As this fashion blogger told
as part of the growing artistic class. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama loosened travel restrictions between the two countries, paving the way for Americans to visit Cuba. After several record years, tourism in Cuba declined after President Donald Trump rolled back those changes in 2017.
Havana Youth subtly depicts those milestones, providing a glimpse of young Cubans with smartphones and Adidas sneakers while also showing harsher realities of the country, such as power outages and a sign taped to a refrigerator regrettably offering visitors "solo agua."
Kahn says he hopes his book shows a different side of life in Cuba, something he believes will be truly transformed by the current young generation and the one after that.
"This is the beginning of a country that's going to look radically different in 50 years," he says. "This is the time people are going to point to as the start."