Cuba by the Sea

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In planning my trip to Cuba I had a wish list of subjects I wanted to photograph. As anybody that knows me will attest, boating is an activity I love. I wanted to experience some time on the water, preferably a sailboat, with a fisherman. In emails with my tour company & guide prior to departure, I realized this was not going to happen because of strict regulations on boats on this tropical island. Even before I departed I got a sense of the governments strict authority on peoples lives. I felt a sense of shear disappointment for Cubans because they couldn’t experience the pleasure of the water as I did.

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I was able to visit a fishing village near Trinidad along the Rio Guaurabo where it flows into the Caribbean. The marina, where I estimate about 35 boats were moored, was as primitive as any I’ve seen. The long narrow design of all the boats was similar. Those that had motors had small inboard engines. While some had a fresh coat of paint, all of the boats had the rugged & rough appearance of a craft designed for work not pleasure.

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The pallet of vibrant colors could be seen in various stages of faded repair. A few of the larger boats had a permanent top to provide shade but most had no protection from the harsh tropical sun. The still clear waters of the river provided reflections that surrounded the marina.

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As anyone who has owned a boat can verify there is always maintenance that needs to be done. In Cuba, with only basic hand tools to work with, building or repairing is a slow process. My access to the marina was tenuous & I didn’t try to engage with anyone for fear of getting them in trouble. I easily could have spent the day with the men in this harbor. However, I was told “jefe” was coming. It was an inspector from the government checking the status of a boat being repaired. It was time for me to depart.

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In almost every marina I’ve ever seen there is at least one boat that makes me curious about the failed hopes of the owner. Even still serene waters can consume a person’s dreams. It appears the name of the boat is Fortia, which translates into Strong. Look closely at the reflection on the starboard chain. You can see a link has separated. Soon the persistent power of water will overpower the craft. Water always wins.

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Dervis Lopez Abram has fished in the Bay of Guaurabo for the past 15 years. In that time he learned many tricks from a mentor who fished these waters his entire life. Trolling with artificial lures on lines, not nets, his catch is Red Snapper, Salt Fish & Tuna. He told me over the past 5 years fewer fish are being caught & he believes it might be due to climate change. The government buys 90% of his catch at prices they determine. He is able to sell or consume the reaming 10%. When his son is not in school Dervis is passing on to him the lessons about fishing he has learned. He is proud of how quickly his only son has learned to catch different kinds of fish.

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The Fara is Dervises boat where he routinely sets out on the sea in early evening and returns at dawn. At 6.4 meters by 2.4 meters it is one of the larger boats I saw in the crude moorings. It is powered by a 12 hp Soviet diesel. He hopes after his son graduates & does his mandatory 2 years in the army he will follow in the tradition of his father. If he does, he will pass the boat on to him giving him a head start in life.

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In hindsight I couldn’t help but to reflect on Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize wining novel The Old Man & The Sea. While Santiago struggled with a big fish, the fishermen in this village contend with much more. Making a living on the water may have a romantic appeal to some. However, for Cubans, the effort to survive as fisherman is a way of life filled with endless challenges beyond those that mother nature presents. In spite of the hardships they hope for a better catch tomorrow.

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.

What I did This Summer

Summer 2017 had a variety of motivations where I explored new challenges & improved on some go-to subjects & techniques.

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Do teachers still use this prompt for students to write about? Summer 2017 had a variety of motivations where I explored new challenges & improved on some go-to subjects & techniques. I took a Master Photography Class & spent a few days with the Chautauqua Ballet. The original shot of Sarah Lapointe was completely over exposed. However, I loved her candid form so I decided to try & salvage it via B&W. Previous attempts at creating a dynamic monochrome image were frustrating & I was unhappy with the results. Their was a high learning curve & numerous hours spent on this image but I’ve developed a better understanding of how to get to where I want in the realm of B&W.

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One of my favorite subjects is our daughter because she does so many visually interesting things. Always challenging herself, she competed in a decathlon in Burlington VT.  I’ve become comfortable working with Photoshop & using it to alter the reality of the moment. I have come to concede that with the exception of photojournalism or documentary, PS is a tool that allows the image to be enhanced & improved. Prior to desaturation & blurring I considered the background distracting of the primary subject.

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At the 2 day competition I was successful at being in positions to capturing solid images of all 10 events. I got some good shots of women pole-vaulting & was moving onto another event when I looked at the sky. As an exhibition jumper was attempting a new personal best I realized the clouds might provide an opportunity to capture an image similar to ones that inspired me back in 1971. He achieved a new personal best & I captured the image that was in my minds eye.

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Since I believe you never have really visited a place unless you have been in or on the water, we went sailing on Lake Champlain. While it is impossible to show the grace & beauty of this 35 foot Friendship Sloop while on-board I did see this CU of the clew of the mainsail as the boom strained against the main-sheet & wooden block.

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Back on the waters of Lake Chautauqua I captured the elegant contours of sailboats racing near Chautauqua Institute. Always looking to improve the image I would love to have been higher so as to eliminate the horizon line of the trees going thru the sails.

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During my photography class the instructor, Marta Rial, in critiquing some of my images suggested I shoot a bit wider. Normally I would have zoomed in to include just the dog and the walker. But her advice proved to be valuable as the leading space of the woman gives weight to the small dog,

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At an exhibit of birds of prey where hawks were tethered to posts I had the opportunity to get within a few feet of these beautiful birds. The advice of shooting wider was completely ignored. The details and the colors revealed in this CU make it one of my favorite images of a bird even though it is in captivity.

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I have a folder of images I have shot called “people taking pictures”. When I saw this person moving in to get a close shot of the owl I wondered if she had any idea she was well within striking range of the hawk behind her. I’m glad her dress didn’t have any patterns that resembled a mouse. Again, the wider shot showing the relativity of the hawk behind her gave a stronger story.

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My dominant motivation in taking a photograph is the subject. I realize that form, line, texture & color are also important elements of an image but I struggle to get inspiration from them. Here it was impossible to ignore the forms created by the lines of the shadows & the windows. I like the juxtaposition & the position of the graffiti infused with the hard lines of the structure.

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Flowers are subjects that provide opportunities to capture color & form. Usually I am less than satisfied with my attempts. But, I shot about 2 dozen images of Day Lilies after a morning rain & I found 1 shot I liked. I’m not sure if the accents of the raindrops were missing if I would like this as well.

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The staggered flower boxes on my shed/wood-shop are wonderful accents to see in person. A photo of them is less appealing. I’m not a fan of collage but I decided to give it a shot. I think the concept may work better if each image was in a separate frame & hung on a wall. Making the frame out of similar color wood as the shed would also be helpful. That might be a project for the wood-shop next season.

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Having nothing connected to photography, I have been watching the Bemus Point Stow Ferry cross Chautauqua Lake my entire life. At the end of last summer I got my Joint Pilot & Engineers license, which allows me to pilot the Ferry. This summer I volunteered to be part of a tradition that has been going on since 1811. Life is good.

Cuban Farm to Table Restaurant

El Paraiso was as unique a restaurant as I have ever eaten at. It had a Great Location on top of a hill overlooking Vinales, & good food with great service. However, what motivated me to take a trip back in daylight to photograph was the self-sustainability of this thriving organic restaurant.

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I wasn’t motivated to do any kind of Foodie or Traveling Gourmet stories during my trip to Cuba. In my opinion, photographs of food are best done in a studio with controlled lighting & props. When you set the food down in front of me it becomes a meal not a subject. However, El Paraiso was as unique a restaurant as I have ever eaten at. It had a great location on top of a hill overlooking Vinales, good food with great service. What motivated me to take a trip back in daylight to photograph was the self-sustainability of this thriving organic restaurant.

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My guide/translator, Lidear, had taken me there for dinner. The overwhelming quantity of the food they served their guests was something I had never seen. Their were no menus to choose from. Our waiter just started to bring food & it seems like he never stopped. Vegetables, rice, potatoes, salads, chicken, pork & fish. At one point I counted 17 different plates of food on our table. Initially I was upset by the waste until I found out that leftovers were an integral part of the composting. I began to see a bigger picture of how this thriving restaurant was self-sustaining.

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We returned the next afternoon so I could interview one of the managers & take some photos. On the surrounding hillsides of the open & simple structure are terraced gardens. They are designed, maintained & organically farmed with the objective of growing everything the restaurant needs.  I learned not all the waste from the previous meals gets composed. Some is used to feed the livestock.

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Greeting guests & answering questions is Mardin Luis. In his 70’s he has seen the value of how the family owning El Paraiso has influenced & benefited the community. Wilfredo, the father who began the restaurant, told him the best garden to grow is your conscious. On a trip to the United States Mardin learned about Kale & has recommended they explore it as a crop. His dreams for the future are to to continue to work, study & be an example to young people.

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At our dinner, the previous evening, the valley below had few lights. The mountains blended into the dark February night sky so the view offered nothing special. In the late morning of the next day the full picture of this family run enterprise was revealed. The vista of the valley & the unique mogotes was an excellent accent to well kept plots.

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Lunchtime guests are invited to wander the hillside gardens on a mini hike around the grounds. Alongside the vegetable gardens are flowers & bushes attracting insects that help to pollinate. I was tempted to chase after the iconic hummingbird shot or stalk butterflies with my camera. The translation of El Parisio in English is paradise.

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In the tropics, the growing season is basically year round. Seeing plants ready for harvest in a raised garden right beside young sprouting crops was something you don’t seeing living near the 40th parallel. As “farm to table” dining experiences as well as organic food becomes more popular in the US I think the self-sustainability of El Parisio is a noteworthy example.

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Rachel Garcia, one of Wilfords daughters, told me when El Parisio opened they had 6 customers a day. It has grown to serve 300.  To keep things running, 20 family members work in the restaurant or on the farm. Her dream for her daughter is to learn the ability to work hard because that makes everything possible. To make a restaurant successful is one of the most challenging businesses to operate. It is almost as demanding as being a farmer. Combining the operation of a farm & a restaurant while serving primarily tourists in a communist country is not a business plan I would think would succeed.

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She is rightfully proud of her family’s success. She also recognizes El Pariso demonstrates how an ecological focus can bring visitors to other community entrepreneurs. Beyond the success of the thriving restaurant she realizes the work her family has done can inspire others in Cuba as they navigate the new opportunities the government is allowing. If you visit this tropical island don’t miss Vinales. And while you are there visit El Paraiso for lunch so you can enjoy strolling the garden before you dine.

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I asked Rachel if she would pose for a portrait. She agreed but only if I include her soon to be delivered child. Before I departed she shared a photograph of her with of Dr. Jill Biden at the White house. As I glanced up from the photograph & looked at her with surprise in my eyes and a big smile on my face, the pride of her families achievements was written all over her face. All of the people I interviewed while I traveled thru Cuba had overflowing self-confidence. With Rachel her self-assurance filled the restaurant.

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.