Artists of Cuba & their ART Part 1

My blog returns to Cuba with focus on art & the artists that produce it. The on-the ground experience of seeing the work of artisans was motivation to connect my camera to my mind. If it catches my eye, attention or ears I explore a little deeper. If it makes me smile or triggers a memory, I want to share it. I hope you enjoy where my eyes take you. My credibility as a critic is thin so explore the links to add you own exposure.

Music wasn’t a motivator but… First was Herb Albert/The Lonely Bull. Then Santana’s Soul Sacrifice followed by Oye Coma Va by Tito Puente  & Latin tempos became a part of my life. Currently Manhattan Transfer/Soul Food To Go is my favorite driving song. Enjoyment of Latin tempos is a constant in my life. However, music is linear for the ear. I didn’t put effort into shots of musicians. To hear Afro Cuban Music, watch 3 Rivers to Cuba. Done by Chris Mason, her it explores multiple layers of Cuban musical culture.

The architectural & artisan work of the Spanish Colonial Empire has influence on artists today. From the pallet of colors to the intricate details I saw centuries old examples of design, detail & craftsmanship that made me pause.

My first night in Cienfuegos we went to Palacio del Valle. I was immediately struck by the blending of architectural influences. Built a century ago by a sugar merchant, the mansion is now a National Monument of Cultural Heritage run by the government.

This church window is more representative of maintenance & restoration of buildings in Cuba. Usually the dynamic image of stained glass windows is from an interior perspective. From the outside layers of history can be seen. Some ironwork is from colonial times while some is from current artisans.
Public Art, especially murals, provide character to communities. They also offer backdrops for street photography. The hue & fading of her pants matching the backdrop is worth a 2nd look.
This is not the iconic image from Abbey Road. A true Beatles fan would know they were walking the other direction & all 4 are in full stride. I didn’t catch that on-site because I was preoccupied with the numerous possibilities I could stage with this backdrop.

I did not see many statues in my wanderings. This bronze likeness of Cuban Hero Jose Marti reading to a young boy represents many important values of Cuban society.
I was initially attracted to Martha Jimenez’s paintings because of her subject matter of 3 women in diverse situations. I believe odd numbers work better in visuals arts. At her gallery/studio/classroom in Camaguey I discovered her talents included sculpting & engraving. Her primary subject is women. I noticed a few works with a sewing machine. The gallery director told me it represents women workers around the world.

I was drawn to the work of Jose D. Gutierrez by the unique texture to his sculpture. Examining the pieces closely I recognized I had never seen whatever he used to make these detailed works of art. I inquired about how they were made. I was told about creating a mold, where the craftsmanship is needed, & then forming goat-skin over it.
A few artists in Cuba are doing well financially selling to the rest of the world. But, like artists everywhere, Abel Garcia Leon must rely on other skills to live. His studio is in one room of his home & his barbershop is in an adjacent space. His great-great grandfather bought the barber chair in the 1880’s. He has sold his paintings in Europe, Canada & the US. His optimistic dream is to one day to have a showing in NYC.

In many shops I found the typical colors & themes of paintings targeted at the tourist. While these pieces may not have any deep artistic qualities they are a few steps above the price & quality of mass-produced souvenir trinkets.
Restrictions on expression after the ‘59 revolution & limited resources had a negative impact. However, art education & subsides increased the population of practicing artists. Some have demonstrated that art is freedom of the mind. Artist Georgeanys Trinidad
Learning the perspectives of artistically expression opens your soul to emotions of others & yourself. Teaching & mentoring preserves the past but also sows seeds for the future.
Let me reinforce the fact I have no credibility as an art critic. Part of my motivation for photography was to capture informal shots of people. Naturally portraits on canvas caught my eye. I observed that Cuban artists had a firm grasp on portraiture.
The number of artists in Camagüey was more than other places I visited. One evening I met Eduardo Rosalez Ruiz in his studio/gallery where the walls were covered with diverse examples of his work. With a typical warm welcoming he told me about his current projects as we shared a drink of rum & honey. Working with materials & subjects of indigenous Taino Cubans he hopes to bring awareness to historical roots.


“I love Digital. I Hate Digital” has become a mantra of mine. I immediately gave this oil on canvas that title.


This piece by Lester Campa is my favorite not only because of style & subject but also because of the memory of Dr. Fidel Hernandez Figueroa proudly sharing it. If you go to this wonderful reservoir of talented artists plan on returning with some of their work.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.



There is still more to come from Cuba but I didn’t want to get into a rut. I don’t follow boxing. However the challenge of photographing the sport motivated me to give it a try. I had worked for a few years with HBO Championship Boxing doing slo-mo replays & I saw the speed & the action intimately. When I look at iconic boxing shots I realize just how difficult the sport is to cover with a still camera. I contacted Wolfpack Boxing Club & asked if I could bring my camera to try capture a few images. The owner Jeff said sure.


The skills necessary for a boxer to step into a ring are as numerous as any sport. Split second hand-eye coordination, stamina, strength, agility, concentration & balance are all needed to attack you opponent while they attack you. Beyond the gloves & the roped off ring the sport has no other accessories. Their is no denying boxing is violent. However, it also involves strategy & judgment, which allude to the epithet of the “Sweet Science.”


In addition to physical training a boxer must have psychological confidence & tenacity, which fuels powerful reactions. Capturing the brief expression with the action is a tremendous challenge for any photographer. But when you get it it’s compelling.


At ringside you need different focal lengths to capture the action while shooting at a steep angle when boxers get close. Often action is blocked or so abrupt an angle that good images are almost impossible. For this shot at Wolfpack in Carnegie PA, I positioned myself with the background in mind. I then waited for the action to happen in front of it. Since this was training I was alongside the ropes & had flexibility where I could stand.


Real-time self-observation is an excellent drill to develop techniques of punches & combinations. The opponent is yourself, which allows you to observe what an adversary sees. This perspective is a tremendous motivating drill. In a studio lighting situation I’d enjoy the chance to explore old school shadow boxing where I control the shadows.


Frequently on HBO Boxing events I isolated a hand-held operator working from the corner of the ring. Gordie Sager was recognized as one of the best in this position. It was a pleasure to be responsible for replays of his work. He never gave up on framing for the best perspective. Slight adjustments he made in his position often resulted in surprising results because he knew where the action was going to go. Most memorably was his reaction when we didn’t get a single replay on the air. He said, “The other cameras had the best looks…tonight.” He understood the value of patience & persistence.


Close-ups are more dramatic, but the story of most sports is told in wide shots showing relationship & interaction. Real fans of boxing know that a head to toe 2 shot is the bread & butter of the sport. I can’t say I am knowledgeable enough to analyze individual boxers.   However, I am aware enough to recognize & respect determination.