Distilled Goals for Cuba

On The Road with Charles Kuralt is an example of how a simple well told story could 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 to push personal limits.

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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.

Cuba Photo Essay a Motivational Journey

To begin 2017 my blog will deal with my 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.

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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.