What’s in Your Camera Bag?

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Almost all interviews with photogs ask some version of this question. Some are interesting but most are redundant & only hit on “big ticket” stuff. I’ve always felt “bag-o-tricks” items are overlooked so I will include some of mine.

Weight of the backpack, which is about exclusively all photo gear for travel, is 17lbs. Checked luggage is 33 lbs.

Canon 7D & 7DM2. Traveling pancake 40mm on 7d & 28mm on MII. 100-400mm, 85mm & 1 18-135mm. 2 neck straps &1 sling strap. 152G CF and 140G SD memory cards in old video lens filter pouches. A Tascam DR-5 with a cute baby tripod that fits into an old army belt pouch. 4 cam bats & 2 chargers, 6 AA batts, ear buds, 2 32 gig micro mini cards & spare back cap. 2 Cliff Bars, mini carabineer, 6’ of sash cord, zip ties, lock & key…another lock keyed the same with a duplicate key is in checked luggage. Business cards, notebook, pens, Sharpie &yellow G-tape…wrapped around pouches. Lens pen, lens cleaners, sensor cleaner, chamois, neoprene pouches, towel, misc. pouches, & garbage bag. Duplicate printed logistical info, photocopy passport & spare reading glasses.

Inside checked luggage is a Kindle, flex-fill, tripod, remote shutter release w/2 sets of batts, a OTS run bag, a dry bag, another backpack, AC adapters, Swiss Army knife, spare sunglasses, head/sweat bands, 1 more pair of reading glasses & more cliff bars. Since American Airlines only has 1 flight a day to Cienfuegos from Miami I am putting faith in St. Christopher to get my luggage to Cuba with me.

Just before the end of my career I reached 1 million actual miles with American Airlines. To many on the crews I worked with this is amateur status. Working on remotes with TV gear & traveling to sporting events gave me a lot of experience & insight into the priority of packing. The blending of available space, necessity & redundancy is critical to being prepared…a skill I began learning in Boy Scoutsl

Once in Cuba I will reconfigure bags as the days unfold. I will be curious when I return to see what gear I wish I would have had and also what gear I should have left at home. Redundancy is important on key components & I think I’m covered. Fingers crossed. The weak link is camera memory cards, which I will not be backing up. I have never had any issues & offer respectful wishes to Mnemosyne to watch over my cards.

No laptop. A few of my reasons for excluding it are logistical…more electronics, more cables, another device to worry about keeping charged & poor/no Internet. Also, I would rather spend time with people not a laptop & be “Off The Grid”. Also no Terrible Towel.

Why the Kindle? In addition to logistical info docs, I’m loading it with images from my library for a cultural Show & Tell. I believe a core motivation of all photogs is to share your images. I also hope this will be a path to engage Cubans I meet.

I will start sharing on this blog images & stories from this trip after Valentines Day!

Motivated Explorer

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If you read the last 3 posts about incentives for my Photo Essay in Cuba you will see twists & turns. With departure less than a week away, reflecting on the evolution of my motivation has been clarifying. One year ago at this time I was getting ready for my last remote & retirement. That page of my life has been turned. Now, I am confidently looking forward to first-hand inspiration during a brief immersion into a foreign culture.

If any one word describes my trip I guess explorer comes the closest.   Although my actual time there will be short I believe the culture of the Cuban people is worth experiencing & attempting to understand. Even though I haven’t yet set foot there, the research & planning has been an enjoyable & valuable learning process.

What something is can sometimes be defined by what it is NOT.

This trip is NOT a job…nobody is paying me. It is NOT a vacation…recreation & relaxations are not goals. I am NOT part of a group…this is an independent excursion. I am NOT a tourist checking items off a list to say, “Been there-done that”. I am NOT trying to be a time traveler stepping into Doc Brown’s DeLorean to return to the 50’s.

At its core, motivation is a desire to do something. Defining general goals early on was helpful. I knew in retirement I wanted to do more photography. I also looked forward to having time to learn new things. And, after a hiatus from the airport, I wanted to visit new places. This trip targets those ambitions.

My curiosity & research identified potential objectives, which became more specifically defined. What I perceived as obstacles melted into logistical challenges. The preparation fueled my enthusiasm while diluting apprehensions.

Groundwork I did in advance of the trip galvanized my efforts to improve & expand my photography skills. Reading books & watching documentaries about Cuba helped satisfy some of my inquisitiveness. Looking at the work of other photographers made me eager to meet the people of Cuba & glance into their lives. The next step, after I pack, is doing it.

I also have secondary incentives. Going somewhere that has been forbidden for most of my life sparks my sense of adventure. I also like rum and must confess, I’m looking forward to the warmth & longer days near the Tropic of Cancer.

Any sojourn will have a few surprises. These are a few I’ve already encountered.

I am flying with Frequent Flyer miles. Two years ago the only way for most US citizens to get there was illegally departing from another country. This is a example of how things have changed. OBTW my AA million miles status got me first and business class seats. Jay got his upgrade!

Since the embargo was an economic action, the Treasury Department not State Department, authorizes trips to Cuba. FYI tourism/vacation is not an acceptable reason. I am traveling for the dual category of people to people & journalism. My permission slip from the treasury was a form letter.

Removing the embargo will take an Act of Congress. Eisenhower began it by restricting arms in 1958 and later he and Kennedy escalated it to include almost all economic, commercial and financial activity.

There are 2 currencies on the island. The CUC is for foreigners & CUP for citizens. The economic embargo prevents the use of US credit cards. Exchanging US dollars for CUC has a 10% tax. Other currencies do not have that tax.

A woman by the name of Celia Sanchez had a dominant role in the revolution and lived in the mountains with Fidel’s armies. I didn’t expect that in a machismo setting.

One disappointing surprise was that the rum distilleries are located on the Western part of the island, which I will not be visiting.

Almost always a disappointment is Verizon. I was told in December I could get an International Plan for use in Cuba. $40 per 100 min. Surprise Surprise I had been given bad info. The only Cuba plan is $2.99 per min or $300 for 100.   Basically 7 times more expensive than the information I was given about 6 weeks ago. I will just deal with a pre-paid card in Cuba. Verizon consistently has given out bad, or at best, confusing/conflicting/inaccurate information.

While I have confidence in my overall plan I know that once I get there it will be necessary to adjust & to some degree & “make it up as I go along.” Having worked on location doing video production for 40 years I am well prepared for not everything going as planned.

My mantra for retirement has been slower & simpler. Island Time should mesh with that attitude just fine. I look forward to taking advantage of opportunities that unfold right in front of me without being overly concerned with a defined schedule. I also anticipate introspective discoveries on this journey.

Cuban history is filled with numerous transitions. With Raul Castro saying he will step down in February of 2018 & the recent death of Fidel, the 14 months in between the exit of the Castro brothers could be significant. Will the world look on this period of time as the epilogue of the Castro’s rule? Might it be the prelude to a new beginning? Will Fidel’s comment that History will absolve him be true? How will new generations define Cuba Libre?

I can’t help but expect that this is a period of time of yet another significant change in the lives and the history of the Cuban people.

Look for my 1st posting in mid February.

Distilled Goals for Cuba

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On The Road with Charles Kuralt is an example of how a simple well told story can be inspiring. In the CBS Lillehammer Olympic phone book my name was listed above his in a humbling alphabetic honor. During an all-to-brief conversation he told me how rewarding it was to go to small towns & hear the stories people would share with him. My trip to Cuba is an attempt of emulating his examination of the simple things in life. The work of others can be a strong motivation.

My goals for my Photo Essay are focused on people. I hope to turn my lack of Spanish into an asset via my guide/interpreter. I’ve worked on interviews via interpreter & they slow the exchange giving time for reflection.

I’m anticipating the camera will become a conduit to get involved with persons I meet. My wide-angle ambition is to document individuals in their daily lives & interview them. As much as possible I want to observe objectively without preconceived judgment.

My photography goals are to get formal portraits in natural settings & candid shots of their routines. I also want to get unguarded images of daily activities that reflect life in their communities.

The interviews will deal with family/history, inspiration, school, happy/sad memories, & day to day activities . I’m looking to explore subjects common in most cultures. I will also inquire about the future. Since the Internet is not a dominant part of their society, I want to discuss their perspective on how it will impact their lives.

Originally I was planning on departing on 11/30. By the time I was ready to book the flights those dates were no longer available. Initially, I was disappointed. In hindsight I’m glad it was postponed. If I had arrived as per my original plan it would have been 4 days after the death of Fidel & it would likely have dominated conversations. Hopefully, now that 2 months have past, other topics I am curious about can be discussed.

If during our conversations they bring up Fidel I will respectfully listen. If they bring up the history of the US government & its dealings with Cuba I will do the same. If they ask about the new US administration…I don’t know what the fuck I will say. I don’t want to dwell on politics. Individuals aren’t defined solely by their government or their leaders.

As is my nature, I like to go places off the beaten path so I will not be going to Havana. With no disrespect to the city or people, I want to experience smaller cities & towns. I fly into & out of Cienfuegos with stops in Pinar del Rio, Vinales, Santa Clara & Trinidad. Of these Santa Clara, with a population of 250 K, is the largest.

Some subjects/locations I will be working with my guide to coordinate are: Farms, cigar rolling, boxing, dancing studios, fishing village, musicians, art, rum, families, dominoes, religion & a barber shop. These ideas are a starting point & I will leave myself open to unexpected opportunities. Since I am fond of street photography, architecture & the natural world I will be keeping my eye aware for these subjects.

Many photogs have done fantastic work with classic cars & also because I’m not a car guy I won’t be looking for vintage cars. Although, there are some road trips in my itinerary.

The one profession that is my dream interview is a “Reader”. I’m not sure if this job exists outside of Cuba. I will do the Snoopy dance, with a few salsa moves, if I am lucky enough find an individual that has done this.

Another aspect of the trip I’m looking forward to is staying in Casa Particulars. As I understand these places are a cross between a home stay & a B/B. I want to interact on a casual basis with the families I stay with. This is one of the few private business the government allows individual Cubans to operate. I look forward to the challenges my minimalist Spanish will create with my hosts.

I have a philosophical challenge within my motivation. While change is constant, the perceived pace in Cuba is more dramatic & I would like to document that. However, still photography only captures a brief moment & doesn’t represent more than the instant the shutter was snapped.  I hope to be aware enough to capture juxtapositions that show the evolution of everyday people.

A still image captures emotions better than documenting culture. Upcoming posts on this blog will blend multiple images & writing to share my experiences. The stories will not be told in real time. Rather they will evolve in the months ahead on bi-monthly postings.

Thru photography & interacting with people I aim to get a first-hand view of Cuban culture. I now know some history of their struggle for freedom. I’m curious if this fuels their national pride. Since this blog is about motivation I want to tap into their inspiration. I want to get a grasp on how they deal with the challenges of daily life.

To those I meet, I also want to be an example of what a friendly neighbor looks like.

Motivated by Curiosity, Understanding & a Friend

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The previous post about my Cuba Photo Essay explained my shallow knowledge of this nation. In this post I explain how curiosity blended with extraneous experiences, including becoming friends with Mark Zannoni, evolved into a motivation to explore & understand a culture, which is rich in character.

Snippets I read about Cuba revolved around Spain, galleons & the slave trade. It was a cursory foundation of historical knowledge. Their path of independence seemed irrelevant. Roosevelt’s involvement in the Spanish American War veered my attention towards US involvement in other parts of the world.

Growing up in the 60’s I knew Cuba was a communist country & Fidel Castro lead the revolution. With a teenager’s perspective, I knew Cubans risked prison, torture or even death. Freedoms of speech, like those protesting in the US, were not allowed in their country. Because of where I was born, my life was much freer. I couldn’t grasp life under communist rule but yet I was curious about the lives of people on this tropical island.

I had empathy for anybody risking their lives on overcrowded boats to escape tyranny & admired the courage to liberate their lives. Leaving family, homeland & your culture is a hard decision. To risk death is an entirely higher level of determination.

In 1986 I peaked behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow during the Goodwill Games. In many ways my eyes were opened. I learned “Evil Empire” didn’t apply to everyday people. I could tell from the demeanor, posture & expressions of Soviets they had little joy in their lives. I questioned if I had the durability to survive in their society. I recognized that even with hardships in the Soviet Union, it was their home & had been for generations. I wondered if tenacity fueled a pride in their culture & heritage.

After the Berlin Wall came down Communism in Europe was collapsing. Cuba depended on the USSR for 30 years & totalitarian control in Cuba was sure to fall like other Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. But that didn’t happen. Why? From my time in Moscow I knew people living under Communism needed strength. This tenacity must also be part of Cuban society. Had hardships evolved into a determination for survival?

Compassion is one thing but I still lacked understanding.

From the perspective of a Freelancer I appreciated opportunities Cubans couldn’t even dream about. My career allowed me chances to work in a medium built on the foundation of Free-Speech, I worked Independently with clients, & truth be told…cameras & TV equipment are fun tools to make a living with & I enjoyed my trade.

In the 90’s I became friends with Mark Zannoni, a fellow freelancer transplanted from Chicago to Southern Florida. I remember him translating at a restaurant in FTL. Since I’m ignorant in any language except English, I was curious how a kid from Chicago named Zannoni knew Spanish.   He told me his mom escaped from Cuba & he learned it from her. I now had a connection to Cuba.

Over the years I picked up bits of information from him. As with many of Mark’s opinions, he was adamant about complete change of government in his mother’s native land. When he told me an Uncle was part of the Bay of Pigs Invasion I began to understand his emotions. It was personal to him. A perspective I lacked but respected.

In 2008, when Fidel handed over power to his brother Raul I asked Z if he would consider visiting Cuba. As I mentioned, he was adamant…”No! Raul is even more vicious than his brother.” They both must go before he would ever visit his mother’s place of birth. The reality of government oppression was close to him & many others. The community of expat Cubans was a generational stew of emotions.

So all of these things were percolating in my mind. As I approached retirement I wanted to reward myself with a trip. I also knew I wanted to rekindle my enthusiasm for photography. The drastically different way of life in Cuba along with the US’s evolving relationship was the chance to do both.

I want to see & experience to better understand the culture of the people in Cuba.

Just before retirement at Super Bowl 50 I was playing dominoes with Mark. He is the kind of friend you can have a good disagreement with & remain close. I explained my plan of a Photo Essay. His questions revolved around “Your just one person. You can’t change things.” My response was “I want to experience the people & the culture”. He felt I was supporting the Castro’s but was interested in learning about my trip. I don’t know if our conversation distracted him but I won 5 games of dominoes to his none.

In October of last year, at 49 years of age Mark Zannoni passed away. I miss him & grieve for his family & many friends. I’m sure that throughout my trip he will be in my thoughts. Z’s spirit for life motivates me to capture the soul of the Cuban people.

Cuba Photo Essay a Motivational Journey

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To begin 2017 my blog will deal with motivations to photograph people & culture in Cuba. I will post weekly with text instead of twice a month with pictures. My inspiration has evolved & taken some unexpected twists. If you know somebody that might enjoy a creative exploration…please share my blog.

All stories have a beginning, middle & an end. This post begins in the middle.

I sit here on 11/26 starting my journal. I’ve been planning for 9 months & departure is 2 months away. A strange time to begin but I awoke to learn Fidel Castro died. I don’t understand why this sparked me to begin. But inspiration doesn’t have an on/off switch.

The seeds of a Cuban Photo Essay began 2 years ago when President Obama restored diplomatic relations. The most logical comment I heard was ”What we had been doing for 50 years wasn’t working. Why not try something different.” I found it intriguing that Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, played a role in easing tensions that existed for most of my life. I also found it reassuring Canada was involved.

My understanding of US Cuba relations was thin even though I enjoy reading about history. Born in 1955 I have zero recollection of the revolution. My knowledge of the Bay of Pigs is because of a memorable name. The missile crisis happened when I was 7 & resulted in air raid drills in elementary school. Years after the assignation of Kennedy I couldn’t make connections to theories of Oswald’s visit the Cuban embassy in Mexico.

As a teenager, the swirl of events around Vietnam, Civil Rights, the riots of 1968, the Generation Gap & assignations of MLK & Bobby Kennedy occupied my developing worldview. These events impacted my life more than anything on a Caribbean island. In youthful ignorance, the iconic image of guerilla fighter Che Guevara was without context of what he represented to older radical baby boomers.

When the TV Docudrama Missiles of October aired & I began to understand the events that took us close to nuclear war. My link between the USSR & Cuba fell into the muddy category of communist & satellite. Very Cold Warish. That program also reinforced my perception of the power of the medium of TV.

My 4 years at Kent State focused on finding a path to my degree & a job. I had exposure to new people & ideas while having a good time. However, connections to history & international events rarely came to mind.

As I began my career in TV production, the host of a show told of trips to Havana when she was younger. “It only cost a quarter each way on a banana boat. We would go there for the weekend & have a great time!”

Around then I went on my 1st Caribbean vacation. Flying to Grand Cayman, I saw a landmass that surprised me. The plane wasn’t a US carrier so it was OK for me to be over  Cuba. OK but strange. I had ignored that Cuba was in route. It was like it didn’t exist.

Santiago in Hemmingway’s Old Man & the Sea was just that…a wonderful old man his boat, the sea & the fish. I humanized him as a man but de-cultured his heritage.

Over the next 2 decades marriage, family & career dominated my life. The topics of my reading were mostly about US & European history. In books I read, little was ever mentioned about Cuba or Latin America. Vacations to the Caribbean were focused on sailing & beaches.

Occasionally events in the news briefly caught my attention.

The Mariel boat-lift resonated as a strange event. Criminals & patients from mental health facilities were exported. The tragedy of Elian Gonzalez evolved as an story more twisted than Shakespeare could write. The conclusion ended with in an iconic image of a federal agent taking a 7 year old child at gunpoint. That image resonates in my mind alongside the May 4th 1970 picture from Kent State of the girl screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller.

I was further confused about Cuba when Guantanamo Bay became a story-line in the news. Why do we have a military base in a country we have no diplomatic relationships with? HUH!

Living over 1000 miles from Miami with no connections to the people of or expatriates from Cuba, numerous stories of escapes to the US didn’t resonate very deep. I felt empathy about the separation of families. However, I had no perspective of the depth of emotions Cubans in both countries lived with.

Recognizing my ignorance I am motivated to better understand Cuba, its history & the people. Immersing myself in their culture even for a brief period of time I hope to get a better perspective of their lives. I also will attempt to merge the format of Studs Terkel every man interviews with Humans of New York. I will document moments of people’s lives, interview them & write short essays to share on my blog. I want to push my photography & develop a more coherent writing process. I want to be a good neighbor representing the people, of the United States. I am, after all, from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.