Category Archives: Cuba

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.

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Yellow – I’m back!

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The late day light was soft and yummy as I rounded the corner and found this wonderful scene waiting for me. Yes, cars are probably over photographed in Cuba, but come on, tell me you wouldn’t have stopped?  Seriously, would you have passed this up?  Didn’t think so. Another take below.

Sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks.  The cycling accident banged up my fingers and knuckles and its been hard to type!  All is healing nicely and I’m good to go again!

Thank you to all who came to one of my three lectures at the NECCC Conference. Wow, what a great event that is. So well organized with a plethora of choices in classes you can attend. Lots of great teachers too. Very grateful to have been part of this wonderful annual event.

My most recent Topaz webinar is now available to watch at your leisure here.

My most recent Perfectly Clear webinar is now available to watch here. 

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Pablo

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When I travel to Cuba, I look forward to seeing my friend Pablo. I have spoken with and photographed Pablo each time I’ve been to Cuba. Last year, I had the humbling experience of being invited into his home. It was an experience I will never forget. One that gave me a deeper understanding of what poverty looks and feels like. One that reminded me of how blessed I truly am. This year, I learned the sad news that his wife passed away last July. It was apparent that Pablo was heartbroken as he spoke of her passing. He looked to have aged greatly since our visit last year. As we spoke, he shared that he did not think he would make it much longer himself. He has a number health issues and I got the impression he is losing his will to live. It will be sad to return to Cuba and not see my friend Pablo. I am grateful for the lessons he has taught me.

For fun  I have added a third picture below that was taken on my first trip in 2012. Yes, I believe he is wearing the same shirt and hat 3 years later. It is also interesting to see the difference time of day and reflected light make on the tonality of the 2012 image.

 

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Cuba is all about the music

In Cuba, everywhere you turn, infectious Latin rhythms can be heard. The music is one of the best things about Cuba. I am impressed with the way the Cubans take their less than adequate instruments and make amazing music with them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a high quality guitar being play on any of my trips. I do hope the renewed relations will eventually bring quality instruments to the Cubans. These talented musicians deserve them! I can’t help but make a photography point here. What a great example they are in cementing the idea that it is not the gear that makes a great image, its the person behind the gear. In this case, better quality instruments will stay in tune better, sound so much richer and be easier to play. That still does not take away from my point. You can feel the soul of these musicians as they play, regardless of the quality of the instrument.

As a guitar player, I am particularly drawn to fellow players, but of course I am a former trumpet player too! You’ll notice in one picture a yellow guitar pick. On this trip, I brought 100 picks and gave them to any and every guitar player I ran into. I also brought 6 sets of strings. The reaction to these simple gifts was heart warming. So glad I did this and would suggest you do too, if you travel to Cuba.

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Cuba Through Their Eyes

It is an honor to associate with the photographers who come on a tour or workshop. I am inspired by their vision and talent. As such, I asked the participants who traveled with Tony Sweet and me on our recent trip to Cuba to share a favorite image from the trip. I wanted you to see Cuba through their eyes and introduce you to their excellent work. If you see a highlighted link, please click on it to see more of their work.

Carla Geyer – Cheryl and I stumbled into this potter’s workshop and we were entranced. The artist sitting at his wheel smiled at us and continued his work. We were in no hurry, so we took our time and looked around. Then a large and somewhat rude German tourist group bustled in; Cheryl and I sat down and decided to wait them out! Our patience did not go unrewarded. The artist took his time to talk with us: to tell us about the 6 generations of artists before him, to introduce us to his son and grandson, to show us his kiln and tools. Such generosity of spirit.

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Gayle Biggs –  “Giggles” – She did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish.  We communicated with giggles!

 

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Greg Hockel –  Hope springs eternal…..

 

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Pam Davis – I love this image because it was the first day back in Havana with the lighthouse in the background and the light on this man he never seemed to notice me as I snapped multiple images of him cutting up his bait.  I feel like I could have watched for hours, my only regret is that I did not try to interact.  I was afraid of changing the mood even when I was done creating images.

 

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Linda Harding –  (Linda’s website will be live shortly, check back later this month)  I loved the intimacy of Cuba.  The people….their connection with one another.  I loved their gifts for art, music, and the stamina  to get up and keep going everyday, even when that going is tough.  So, I share the image of  early morning in the streets of Cuba.  I was in awe of the magic of this country.

 

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Mark Stevens –  Three Hands (Mark has a number of excellent blog post from this trip)

I really enjoyed the music on this trip to Cuba. Maybe it was better or maybe I was more relaxed because I was not trying to photograph everything.
Cuba is a sensory overload for a photographer like me. I know all about slowing down and seeing when it comes to photography, but it took me three tours to slow down and enjoy more of the other beauty of Cuba.
 
This image was shot in very low light with a Canon 6D and a 35mm f2 lens. Even at high ISO I could not get a shutter speed of more than 1/40 th sec.
The musicians were playing in this formation, but I had to combine three of the less blurry images into one composite.
The image was processed in PS CS6 using Nik Software and Topaz Impression.
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Early Morning – Trinidad Cuba

 I find early morning the best time to photograph the streets of Trinidad. You’ll hear the vendors on their bikes announcing their arrival with things like bread or vegetables. And then you see folks peek out of their home to flag them down. Of course there will be cars parked overnight adding to the flavor of the scene and the early morning light too.

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Looking

This year while in Trinidad, I worked on my “people” photography skills.  For this image, I spotted the blue wall, interesting doors and lone bike. I suspected I might have added interest if I just hung out for awhile.  Sure enough, in about five minutes, this young man came out along with a dog. I waited until the gesture of both made sense and tripped the shutter.

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Trinidad Cuba

One of my favorite scenes in the beautiful town of Trinidad Cuba.

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Three

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Three – Havana Cuba

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Early Light on the Malecon – Havana Cuba

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The Malecon is a wide 5 mile road with a sea wall that runs along the coastline in Havana. Again, you can see Morro Castle in the background. It took four years to get a worthy sky to include in this scene. 

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