To Take Or To Be Taken

To take or to be taken, that is the question. Seriously, it’s not to be or not to be, Shakespeare didn’t have a clue. I kid! I have been reading a lot of photography books, blog posts and magazine articles. None are about gear or post-processing. Rather, they are about the process of photography, vision and learning to see. I find myself asking the question, do I want to take pictures or be taken. Do I want to go out just because I am a photographer and take pictures because that is what I’m supposed to do?  The answer I keep coming up with is, no. Rather, I want to be in a place where I can be taken and then capture that. A place where I am open to that moment of perception where I sense or see an image because of a connection that happened. Does or will that connection always need to be recognized?  No, I don’t think so, at least not at the moment of perception. But, I want to sense a connection. Here is what I do know. When that moment of connection does happen, I feel euphoric! It is a different feeling than when I am forcing an image or taking one. And, I’ve learned the images that take me are much more meaningful to me. My observation is others respond differently too.

An experience in Cuba started much of this thinking and introspection.  For three years, I went to Cuba to take pictures. And by take, I mean that quite literally, because it dawned on me that is exactly what I was doing. Taking from these people. In an effort to change my paradigm, I brought a Fuji Instax camera on my most recent trip. (Think Polaroid or an instant camera that produces a 2”x3″ picture)  More importantly, I brought a different attitude.  I was there this time to give and not take. The experience was liberating, and rewarding. Each time, I would ask permission to make their photograph. I would show them a sample image, then using hand gestures and my limited Spanish, explain what was going to happen. I was going to take their picture and give it to them as a gift. Once they understood, everyone engaged. When they saw the image develop right before their eyes, they became giddy, and excited. I enjoyed this new experience so much, that I found there were many times I did not want nor need to make another image with my “real” camera. I was content with the giving experience. Or, I found myself wanting to take their picture with them holding their gift. In the past I would have frowned on the idea of having this little 2×3 picture ruin my shot! But no, it was the shot! It was the connection and story. Below are a few of the happy faces after receiving their picture.

So what happened? By first thinking about them and creating a connection, they sensed I cared. In return, I was rewarded with many wonderful experiences. In fact, I was invited into the home of the family in the first picture and given gifts to bring home. Amazing! The group in the last picture engaged a few of us for 15 minutes expressing their gratitude for Americans. Talk about being taken! I was taken by these wonderful, happy and generous people.  

If you want to see really great work from Cuba, visit Mark Steven’s site and read his many wonderful blog posts. His work is fabulous and he knows how to make connections better than anyone I’ve seen.












This entry was posted in Connection, Cuba and tagged , , .


  1. Mark Stevens December 7, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Nice work John. Those are exactly my feelings.

    • JB December 7, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

      I learned from you Mark.

  2. Roni Chastain December 7, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Oh John, you are amazing! such an inspiration to me, YOU make my heart sing!!!!
    Healthy & Happy New Year to you and your beautiful family.

    • JB December 7, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

      You’re very sweet Roni. Thank you.

  3. Scott Oberle December 7, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Good thoughts to chew on as usual John. Particularily significant as we re-evaluate our relations with our neighbors to the south. Without getting too political, I am reminded how our embargo has affected Cuba. The people who have suffered are the ordinary citizens, whom I found were amazingly friendly and warm. Considering how little most Cubans have, their outlook on life and complete friendliness towards Americans was absolutely amazing.

    • JB December 7, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

      Agreed Scott.

  4. Barry Wolf December 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    What a great idea! I’m going to do that when I go in January. Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. Flint Sparks December 7, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    Beautifully said and nicely embodied in your work.

    • JB December 7, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

      Thank you Flint.

  6. marty golin December 7, 2015 at 11:12 pm #

    I recall some earlier posts about taking pictures of people; no more FUD for you! You’ve turned that into a wonderful positive.

    • JB December 10, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      You’re very kind, thank you Marty

  7. Stephan Dietrich December 10, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    “Dream Believe Create!” “Take Make Create!” “Every day and moments are gifts, that is why it is called the present.” “Seeing Feeling Visions Expressions Emotions Connections Interactions Preservations!” It is amazing that when you have all of the ingredients, there still remains endless possibilities as to what can be made, created and shared. You have an amazing gift with your photography, art, words and visions! All the best to you and yours!

    • JB December 10, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Thank you Stephan. And to you and yours!

  8. Steve L December 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    Great concept. And nice results personally and photographically.

    • JB December 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm #


  9. Bill Motley January 7, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    What a great idea. We’re going back to Cuba for a second time next month and I’m going to take a Fuji instant camera along. Last year we took lots of small gifts (baseballs, chalk, crayons, candy etc for the kids) that were a big hit with the kids and parents. A small token of thanks for allowing us to photograph them. Thanks for for wonderful insight.

    • JB January 7, 2016 at 10:49 am #

      Enjoy your trip Bill. Yes, the Instax will be a big hit! Thanks for stopping by!

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