Camaguey Cuba Ballet

The most exciting photographic opportunity I had in Cuba was at a rehearsal for the Camagüey Ballet.

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The most exciting photographic opportunity I had in Cuba was at a rehearsal for the Camagüey Ballet. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to capture dance, which like music, is a linear art form. Unlike musical performances, dancers provide numerous moments for powerful still images. Considering it was my first attempt I did OK. My instincts of where to be & when to snap were solid. The challenges of background & lighting were a distraction. A photo my daughter took inspired this shot.
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As I have mentioned before, odd numbers for me are more visually interesting. I find that 3 or 5 primary subjects can create unbalanced symmetry I find intriguing. Maybe it has something to do with the rules of thirds. I found this tighter shot, which cropped the full form of the dancers, engaged my eye more with the individuals. I enjoy the personal outfits of rehearsal instead of more formal costumes during performance.
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As I was transitioning from the horizontal of video into stills I discussed the challenges I had with vertical framing. A single ballerina in a spinning pointe erased whatever traces I  have of reluctance to turn the camera 90 degrees. I also explored personal post-production boundaries on this image. I justify the enhancement with the fact that the subject is “art”.
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A square cropping also pushes my comfort zone. Shortly after I started working on this image in PS I was drawn to this perspective. In some respects, because it lacks the entire pose of the dancer, this shot is a failure. However the expression on her face justifies to me showing only 3 of her 4 appendages. This led me to explore square cropping with other images.
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When photographing in a room with mirrors it can be either a nightmare or an entry to another dimension. Fortunately the mirror was on the south side of the room where I kept my back most of the time. I would however like to explore coordinating the perspective of this shot. Standing there trying to make something out of this angle I remembered a workshop where I learned where you stand with a camera is a lot like shooting pool. A few degrees difference can make a big change.

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Although shot has an even number of subjects I like this image a lot. The missing form of the ballerina in the foreground is partially revealed in the background dancer. This combines the power of a close-up with a hint of the pose. I also like the green leaf earrings, which are a personal touch you could easily miss in a wider shot. along with the informal wisp of her hair. If only the bar in the background had not been there. I was thrilled & thankful to be a guest at this rehearsal. However, the photographer in me wanted control.

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OK, I’m back to odd numbers. In an effort to eliminate the bar that encircled the room I tried getting a lower angle. However my old knees had an opinion as to how much I should do this. Again, I justify the failure of not having the complete form with the more dramatic facial features. The receding focus & the position of the dancers arms in conjunction with the direction of the their gaze create both tension & harmony.

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This shot demonstrates all of the visual distractions I was trying to overcome. If I had to choose only one distraction I could eliminate I would have the bar removed. In my minds eye the strong horizontal lines is a visual speed bump. Ignoring the distractions and the noise from a high ISO I love the form captured in this moment as well as the dancers concentration. In hindsight, I could have lowered the shutter to 350 speed & reduced the ISO.

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As somewhat of a bookend to the beginning image of feet in the 3rd position I choose this CU of pointe to end my images from the rehearsal studio. A ballerina in pointe is an iconic image of the art. In my minds eye the subtle strength & precise form of the dancer are captured in this detail.

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I must thank Esmeralda Pimental Rodriguez a representative for Paridiso Tourismo Cultural for the connection and insight into Cuban Art. She helped coordinate my trip to the ballet rehearsal at Casa Quinta. If I ever return to Cuba I will look for her assistance in coordinating  my visit around a performance of the Camaguey Ballet.

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.

Humans of Cuba

My goal in Cuba was to meet & photograph people. Not only was it successful, but also I found Cubans to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered.

01-copyMy goal in Cuba was to meet & photograph people. Not only was it successful, but also I found Cubans to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. On a tour thru a museum  in Camaguay I saw this young woman sitting beside an open window. Her natural beauty was accented with wonderful Tropical Sunlight. Despite the lack of a common language she easily understood how I wanted her to pose with the fan, the angle of her face & the tilt of her chin. The smile is all hers. No direction was needed.

02 I was observing workers & taking pictures not noticing I was standing beside a mud puddle. As I stepped to the side for a slightly better angle my foot went into the mud. Another group of workers had a great laugh at my mistake & I joined them in laughing at my miscue. One of the young men got a bucket of water for me to clean my foot. Soon we were all sitting around having some Havana Club & connecting with minimal vocabularies & collective pantomime. I learned these 2 were a father & son working to put a roof on the young mans grandparents home. The others were friends who were helping. Soon I was warmly welcomed into the “Familia”.

03My guide & interpreter Lidier was an unbelievable asset. He got me into a rehearsal for the Camaguey Ballet.  Showing respect for their space & work I was given almost unlimited access to incredible dancers. This was my 1st opportunity to capture the strength, beauty, grace & precision of this art. In a short period of time I learned a lot.  Hopefully I will get a chance to capture more ballet images in the future.

03aAlmost everywhere I went I saw piles of stone, sand & lime waiting to be mixed with cement & water for repair or new construction. Even with the proper tools this is hard work. Workers I saw lacked the simple equipment we take for granted. This particular crew only had 1 wheelbarrow so large buckets were used to move the sand. In Cuba where almost everything is built from concrete, strength & determination may be the most valuable tools a worker can depend on.

04The Valley of Sugar Mills outside of Trinidad had Spanish Plantations from the 1800’s in various stages of restoration. Next to one was a simple concrete home & small farm where a husband & wife lived. They showed me their display of slavery artifacts they had uncovered & welcomed me into their modest home. As we were leaving, she took a casual pose leaning against the door frame. The only distraction from her warm smile was the tropical colors of her eyes.

05On the tobacco farm of the Camejo family, Sergio was describing the work necessary to raise plants. One of the farm hands walked over & interrupted saying “When you are the bosses son you just tell others to do the hard work.” Sergio replied he “dreamed someday of having his friends job so he could wander around the fields all day.” The camaraderie & mutual respect they had for each other was evident in the joking banter they engaged in.

06The smile of a young child reaches my heart. Add a head full of curly hair, eyes filled with innocent joy & the results are an image igniting delightful memories in any parent’s soul.

07Wandering thru the old cities offered a different layer to “Street Photography”. The massive open windows & doors revealed environments inside but were an adjunct of street activity. I came across a math tutor working with students after school in a small room with a blackboard a few desks. No calculator in sight. In Cuba, they have universities specifically for teachers & it is considered a noble profession.

08When I approached people I randomly met on the street to take their picture, I made sure I had a smile on my face. In almost every interaction I was rewarded with an amplified expression of delight. Sharing the image I had captured with the people resulted in more than a few hugs.

09For some reason my eye is drawn to people on their phones as a subject to photograph. Many of the plazas in cities are Wi-Fi hot spots where Cubans & tourists go to get on the web. In these beautiful plazas where not that long ago people gathered to socialize with each other I found most with their heads tilted down & eyes glued to digital pacifiers. I’m not sure if this woman is a tourist or a native. Her long lean body in visual harmony with the light post really caught my eye.

10It took a while to get used to the ironwork on the substantial old & weathered wooden doors & windows in these centuries old cities. The craftsmanship is impressive. Residents would sit near the windows & carry on conversations with those passing by or sometimes just say hola.

11The pace of the day is one of the most significant differences I experienced. In a society where there is a need for activities to pass time, Dominoes is a wonderful diversion & a part of the social fabric of the Cuban culture. Few from this mans generation had many options to fill their day. It may also be why the slow game of Baseball is so popular here.

12This is one of the few sour faces I saw. Even with a pout this young man on his way to school brought a smile to my face.