Cuba : part 4 ‘ Mis Compañeros Fotógrafos ‘

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When one travels much of your experience depends on who you are with. When you travel with a group and you don’t know a soul it can be a crapshoot, the people you are with can make or break what you see and feel. Upon arriving in Miami I could feel the tension in my body building, the unknown was at hand. I tried not to perceive anything, I wanted to look forward and not mar my perception. At 6pm we met in the lobby and I immediately knew it would be OK, this was a great group!

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On a couple of afternoons we had ‘crit time’, a critique of our photos. Our leaders and mentors were kind but direct, their suggestions could take a photograph from good to great. Focusing on the ‘main event’ is what sticks in my mind.

Everyone seemed to have at least one winner, one photo better than the others, the best B&W, the best morning shot, the best facial shot etc…   There were four of us who liked to shoot at the same pace and we would photograph together when free time was available. Our game, our challenge, was to try to out do the one with the best shot, in this case it was the ‘puddle’ shot. Did the Cubans think we were nuts? probably.

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El Capitolio:  Prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cuban Congress was housed in this building. When the Communist Regime abolished and disbanded the Congress in 1959, the building lost its purpose as the House of the People. El Capitolio is a replica of the United States Capitol.

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The four of us would wander off the beaten path into areas where tourists typically would not veer. It was another hard look at the other side of paradise. You would think that we felt out of place, or even intimidated, but we didn’t.  A simple ‘hola’ and a smile made it all OK, and it was returned as graciously as it was given.

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What makes a country great?  I guess everyone has there own idea, it could be the food, the landscapes, the water… well, in my book it’s the people. I cannot get a feel for a place, a country, if I don’t interact with the locals. If I haven’t portrayed to you in my past three posts on Cuba, then I gotta tell you now… I love the people of Cuba, they are victims with pride. With all that these stifled and neglected people have been thru you would have thought that their bitterness would have shown through. Quite the contrary.

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I realize I was going to write this post on Cienfuegos and Trinidad, but I wasn’t ready to leave Habana. I am now writing for myself, I don’t want to lose what I felt, and still feel.

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As we were ready to board our bus, leaving Habana behind, I met this woman. This gal was one of maybe three Cubans that ‘asked’ me for money, it was rare.  I found her adorable and held a broken but delightful conversation with her. I gave her one CUC then she told me her baby needed clothes.  We both giggled at that comment, then she raised her hand over her head and said, ” my baby.”  I gave her a hug and a kiss, and another CUC.  

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Adios por ahora hermosa Habana !

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… to be continued.

  

Habana, Cuba part 3 … ” A Day in the Life “

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It’s just over 2 weeks since I’ve been home and my days in Cuba are melding together.  We experienced so much that it will be hard to squeeze it all in. Being this was a photography workshop we were scheduled with many different types of shoots.  Muench Workshops hired models for a shoot on the beach, actors for a shoot in an old building, a Children’s Dance Troup, and a young adult choir.  These sessions were amazing, but a bust for me, I only managed to capture a few good shots, and those are the ones you’re gonna see.

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.( click on images for better viewing)

Our actors shoot was set in and around a ‘typical’ old building. It was the same building where we were to have dinner.  The restaurant ‘La Guardia’ was on the top floor, and one of the best ‘paladors’ on the Island.  Let me show you the interior of this once magnificent space, imagine the beauty that was.

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The hanging laundry belongs to the palador, they are wash cloths. The two rooms shown below are just down the hall from the restaurant, some one, two, three or more live there.

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… and a view from the roof top.   untitled-269-2-Edit

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As I said earlier, the food in Cuba was delicious, however the Cuban people do not eat as the tourists do.  One of the restaurants where we dined served us enough food for  25 people.  I was shocked to see such a waste, especially when the island is hungry.  I asked the waitress what happens with all of our left overs, she replied that they feed their dogs. I couldn’t let this go and have come to the conclusion that, when possible, they are able to help feed the people in their village.

Another time, of which I am guilty of, a few  ‘Cuban’ sandwich’s were left partially uneaten and were to be taken away.  I watched, with embarrassment, the look on the waiters face. He kept shaking his head in bewilderment as he left the room.

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Cuban music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica.  I wanted to give a small history lesson of their music, but that would never end, however I do know that the two main instruments played in Cuban music are the bongo’s and the guitars.  We only flirted with their sound, by the end of the day, after a full meal and a couple Bucaneros, we were spent … my only regret.

Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and home to many members of the Buena Vista Social Club. In fact Santiago is home to Desi Arnez, a Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer, better known as Ricky Ricardo.  History claims that the Cuban sound started in this city. Santiago de Cuba lies 540 miles south east of Habana, or a 10 hour drive….  Next time,  yes, next time!

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 …  next stop Cienfuegos and Trinidad

Habana, Cuba part 2 of several

Before I continue with my glowing review of Cuba and it’s people, you must remember that I went home each night to a plush hotel, ate at the fanciest restaurants, and slept like a baby. These picturesque buildings that you will see are ‘homes’, all of them. I am from America, the land of the free, and cannot comprehend what these people have been thru.

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We arrived in Habana in the late afternoon, our hotel was the Parque Central. Wow!  the lobby was bustling, you could feel the excitement in the air, and you could almost see Sinatra and Hemingway working the crowd, along with Mr. Lansky.  I was elated. Thanks to MW our rooms were ready and check-in was a breeze.  We were to meet back in the lobby, on the couches, in one hour. Well, needless to say, the couch ain’t my style, so I sauntered up to the bar, pulled up a stool, ordered a Bucanero, and lit up a smoke !  I’m in Habana !!  ( had Babaloo been playing I’d still be there )

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Before we headed to dinner we strolled along the Malecon with camera in hand, taking in the city lights, the ambience, the smells, and the reality.

“The Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood. New businesses are appearing on the esplanade due to economic reforms in Cuba that now allow Cubans to own private businesses.”  wiki

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While shooting, from sunrise to sunset, our fearless leaders were there to suggest camera settings, new techniques, bracketing, back button focus, function button, HDR …. my head was spinning!  I was finally learning how to use this very complicated camera.

Again the beauty of Muench Workshops was their keen sense of what to see, and what to photograph.  We visited the local boxing gym where we were able to shoot the athletes in action.  What a trip, and again the Cuban warmth spilled out of their souls and into my lens.

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        This is their coach, better know as Le Black Prince.

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These two boxers are the Cuban Champions. I think this was my favorite shoot, I loved the personal interaction with these athletes.

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The champ and his manager.  This shot was taken in her office, she was writing down her address so I could send her copies of my photos ….. and I will.

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Also hanging around the gym were these two darling future champs.  They posed for me and they loved it, true boxers at heart ! As I was leaving I gave them each 1 CUC, an amount equivalent to one US dollar … they were giddy with delight !

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Yes, this was my favorite shoot. I had planned to move right along with my post but these boxers had an impact on me.  I feel that I owe them more than a sentence or two.  As we left the ring I photographed their neighborhood.  The Cubans are resilient, we think they have nothing, but that’s not true, they have something,  I could see it in their smiles.

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To be continued …..

CUBA … part 1 of several

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Where do I begin?  A friend once said to me, ” If you ever have the chance to go to Cuba, go !” So I had the chance, a chance of my lifetime, and I went.  untitled-3

It all started by my researching photography workshops, that’s how I became familiar with Muench Workshops, my escort for 8 unbelievable days. Muench is owned and operated by three landscape photographers. Two of the three owners  traveled with our group of ten, they were our teachers and our mentors, and became our friends.

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In order for an American to travel to Cuba, you must be on a CET, a Cuban Educational Tour.  We were escorted around the Island by Havanatur, perfecto !  We covered a lot of territory, and not just the typical. MW had a say in what we experienced and made sure there was never a dull moment.

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So it all begins. Each day we rose around 5:30am and out the door within the hour shooting the sunrise somewhere anywhere. We’d return for breakfast, have our day mapped out, and continue shooting till the sun had set and our belly’s were full.  Yes, in that order. It was exhausting and exhilarating, and I would not have had it any other way.

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We spent our first night in the Pinar del Rio Province at La Moka Hotel. La Moka is nestled high in the hills, it’s a beautiful rural area with stunning views. ( of course I don’t have a photo of the views)

Our first full day in Cuba we drove to Vinales.  This charming old town is a municipality in the north-central Pinar del Rio Province. Viñales is an agricultural area, where crops of fruit, vegetables, coffee and especially tobacco are grown.

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Our first stop was a tobacco farm owned by the family of Concha and Paco Hernandez. The descendants of this family have tilled the same plot of land for many generations. The Cuban government takes 90 percent of their crop, however the last 10 percent is the best and kept by the Hernandez family. They spray their tobacco leaves with rum and other secret ingredients to make it their brand, to make it their own ‘special’ smoke.  Of course I had to try one, very smooth and little after taste, the way a cigar should be according to me.

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After we smoked our freshly hand-rolled stogies, and photographed to satisfaction, we were seated for a delicious vegetarian meal. The food in Cuba ( Kooba ) is fresh, colorful, and innovative. I wasn’t prepared for the excellent culinary experience, I figured the meals would be mediocre at best. Wrong again, everywhere I turned I was amazed, Cuba was far more than I had anticipated. untitled-215-Edit

Our next stop was the town of Vinales. Vinales consists mostly of one-story wooden houses with porches. Color is everywhere.  This day set our pace, a simple ‘hola’ and the Cuban faces would light up.  The warmth from their smile said it all.  Never have I been in a friendlier country, or a safer country.

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To sum up our first day in Cuba we were all slap happy with excitement, not to mention the island is a photographers paradise. Todays Cuba has allowed the people to set up shop. There are now more ways for them to ‘earn’ money, adding to the 20 CUC allotted for one months pay ( $23.00 USD ) “The people are not eating from the dumpsters as they were 3 years ago,” as one  Cuban put it, ” we have mango’s on the ground”.  The people of Cuba can now travel the world under the stipulation that they have money in the bank, a family on the island, and a home to return to.  These reasons make it harder for the younger generation, especially if they have family abroad.  Visas are not readily available for them for fear one may never return …

Next stop HABANA !.

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The Passion …

 

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                      John 18:37B-38

   “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”

       … and Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

 

 

The Year of the Sheep

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Hello again. I have been purposely holding back for fear of the same ole same ole. Me, myself, and I are the most critical of my photo’s. I am a realist and I know where I stand, I am not kidding anyone, least of all yours truly. I fancy myself as a solid ‘good’ photographer that is striving to get better… and I have been. It’s not like I haven’t been shooting, it’s just that I haven’t been posting. As I’ve said before, my photos appear to get better with age, they take on a maturity that only time can cure. I will look at them once, leave them alone, and return when the dust has settled …  Sooo, what I’m sayin’ is, these are better than I thought.

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My new direction, as of late, has been to photograph events …  Documentation with a fine eye. Not as easy for me as it felt while I was shooting amongst the crowd, but that’s OK, ‘it’s a process’, as I was kindly reassured by a close friend. These images were taken in Chicago’s Chinatown celebrating the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Sheep.

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untitled-125-EditMy wide-angle street shots were  disappointing as a whole, but practice will make perfect. I just have to keep on keeping on.

Because I am my worst critic, that small fact, my Dear Watson, keeps me on my toes.

Coincidentally, I am also my best fan !  Where I feel I hit a home run, in this shoot, were of the faces in the crowd. Detail, color, and texture …

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In order to get better, one must use their camera as much as possible. This is a basic truth … and one that I adhere to. Simple exercises can go a long way, and much is to be learned from the simple shot.

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The next stop? The St Patrick’s Day Parade … from the front of the line.

PUPPY LOVE …

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Lucky me ! I had the opportunity to babysit 5 adorable pups. These pups are future champions, bred from two of the best bird dogs around. My sister was in a pinch and needed my help … Hotlanta here I come. Actually there were two of us, two nursemaids that bent over backwards to make these pre-toddlers feel comfortable, full, warm, and loved.

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The day would start at midnight, 4 scoops of this and 2 scoops of that. The pups would chow like it was their first meal, their manna from heaven, and they ate like it would be their last. Holy moly! it was a sight for sore eyes. We, my partner in puppy paradise and I, would share the tasks. One would clean the dishes while the other played, handing the pups off one by one to their mother so she could give them the once around and lick them clean. The next step was the dirty job, but we wore smiles and giggled all the way. I must say it took a few of these sessions before we perfected our technique, but we never lost our humor, or joy, at the sight of these imps. Play time lasted ten minutes and not a second more. The pups were spent and would nap where they stalled.

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This routine was repeated every 4 -5 hours, their first last meal, poo poo’s galore, romper room playtime, and then their sudden drunken slip into oblivion. I couldn’t get enough!

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Each pup wears a different colored ribbon in order to tell them apart. There are 4 males and one sweet, although they are all candy coated, female.  In the 4 days that I pampered these pups they went from 4 scoops to 8, their personalities blossomed, and my heart began to ache even more. Their puppy breath kisses would linger for hours, lasting until the next feeding frenzy when it all would start again …

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When my tour of duty was over, when the day was done, I went home and slept for 13 hours straight! I dreamt of the pups, I heard the pups in any squeak … I missed the pups.  Was it worth my beauty sleep? ( believe me it was noticeable ) was it worth the smell that attached itself to me? would I do it again? would I be their surrogate?

In a Heartbeat !!

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“… and they called it puppy love
Oh, I guess they’ll never know
How a young heart really feels
And why I love them so!”

Donny O

 

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