Take a Break from the Digital World

When I returned to still photography I had no plans on printing images.  However, a quote got stuck in my mind.

“The print is an idea made visible. For me it’s a tactile, sensual experience.” Tillman Crane

Last Summer I hung prints in the Mt. Lebanon Library. Seeing portraits “on the wall” was drastically different than viewing the images on a computer. A print inspired learning how matting & framing impact the viewer’s perception.

PORTRAITURE of CUBA Character & Emotions was motivation to “hang prints.” Observing the diversity of human character while standing in a room with over 2 dozen photographs is a more unifying experience than scrolling images on an electronic device.

Mt. Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 201

Sunday March 3rd 1:30-4:30  Opening

Saturday March 9th 3p-6p ish Reception w/Live Music

Friday March 15th 6:30-9:30  “Cuba, Photos & Framing a Story”

Ketchup City Creative 612 Main St. Sharpsburg, PA 15215

https://ketchupcity.com/

Mt Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 2017


It’s physical. It’s social. It’s an old school way to share my work.

Leave the digital world behind. Come to one of the 3 events at Ketchup City. Learn about people & a culture that for over 60 years has been nothing but chaos in the eyes of most Americans. See it for yourself!






Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Eye catchers

Sometimes a picture just makes you smile. Oftentimes it makes you think. I hope signs that caught my eye motivate a smile.

01 CoCo Nuts
Since misspelling is a personal flaw, I feel better knowing I’m not alone. In this case I wonder if it was part of a design to get attention. Being someplace where you see this sign instead of “Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface” is not a bad thing.

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On my trip to Cuba I frequently saw similar signs offering service to repair tires. At first I thought this was an unusual business. However as I got a better feel for the culture I realized that it was typical of the way people find a way to re-use everything. Few things are completely discarded.

03Liquors s
Hanging a sign outside of your place of business may be the oldest form of advertising. Doing street photography at night my eyes are drawn to how some lighted signs dominate a small spot on a corner. The window light in the upper right hand corner adds an unusual balance to the frame. This shot also makes me wonder if liquor comes in any other container than bottles.

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Most signs are for everyone to see. This sign is intended for just 1 individual. I love the fact it is not a hand-written message. It is a very formal presentation but it isn’t centered! Although it is a very common sentiment, by federal law postal employees are not allowed to make these decisions.

05 Barber sized
The word-free barber pole is a symbol that has conveyed a message since the Middle Ages. It also has evolved in meaning & design. The original red & white helix of colors represented a craftsman who would cut hair, pull teeth, perform surgery & do blood letting. In the US a patriotic blue stripe was added & they were put on motors creating an eye-catching optical illusion.

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Way back in time, movie production companies owned many of the theaters that showed their films in addition to having actors under exclusive contracts. They owned the product & controlled distribution to maximize profit & stifle competition. Paramount was, & still is, a force in entertainment although business models have changed dramatically. While many cities had/have Paramount Theaters, Pittsburgh never did.

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Before theaters with dozens of screens, the marquee of a theater not only identified the film playing but also listed the actors. As the multi-screen facilities have replaced the grand movie houses of the past the marquees only have the names of the films being shown. Gone are the days when the stars of the film had their names in lights.

08 Cleaners
If a sign or a photograph makes you smile that is a good thing. If you use the service & can remember where it is located it’s even better for the owner.

09 Nice Things
The message on a sign can also cause you to see something from a different perspective. In this case it made it harder for me to ignore the deteriorated environment without thinking of the individuals living there. It is a very valid question. If we try to understand the question the problem might be solved.

10 showgirls
Often these types of businesses are hidden or in very isolated places with an alluded name or message. Here on a major street in SFO there is no doubt. Subtle is not part of their marketing effort.

11 Diner
Immediately when I saw this sign on Bourbon St in New Orleans I knew it was a diner and I knew what the type of menu I would find. It is curious how graphic design can be so powerful.

Mixed Messagesized
Blame it on my degree in Visual Communications but I have spent more time than necessary trying to understand these symbols. I know the meaning of both & have used them appropriately. Why are they vertical on just the passenger side when a balanced horizontal placement on either side of the vehicle would be better? The juxtaposition of messages is confusing. Is this an indicator of the different views of the occupants of the car? Is the viewer supposed to read top to bottom or vice versa? Is the owner bi-polar? I understand the shinny rotating barber pole much better.

Looking Back for Tomorrows Goals

Although we begin a new year my 1st posting of ‘18 will look back & evaluate how my perspective of photography has evolved.

 

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I begin 2018 looking back & evaluating how my perspective of photography has evolved. Any capture by a camera immediately becomes a document of history. This image of my grandfather relaxing on the porch in Stow connects me with a man I barley knew but am deeply indebted to. It reinforced the connections a photograph can create. Operating the Bemus Point Stow Ferry I ran into a son of one of my fathers fishing pals Dr. Robert Schmalz Jr. He shared this image which was taken before I was born.

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A highlights of ‘17 was this image taking 3rd place in The Eddie Adams Show. It’s an honor to have any connection with this influential photojournalist. From the moment I snapped the shutter in Sarajevo in 2014, I knew I captured the character of the subjects. To have it recognized in a juried competition was very satisfying. The endless diversity of people & the human condition on streets are subjects that still motivate me.

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I’ve got comfortable with the ethics of editing my images that don’t touch on journalism or documentary. I still have the goal of capturing what my eyes see. HDR, can assist in adding details our eyes see but camera sensors can’t. I still believe over-saturated HDR  lacks an “actuality aesthetic”. Other images I’ve edited made me realize there is a 2nd opportunity to tell a story. A wildly over-exposed shot became a B/W image I’m happy with. A slightly out of focus image was manipulated into a frame capturing the moment I was after. OBTW I realize it’s in focus or not but I also remember Bresson said… “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

04 split dancer

Although I doubted I would take my enthusiasm for photography into the world of printing, I did. I learned printing, matting & framing require different perspectives. The image on the left was cropped for the web. To get a well-proportioned print & ensure a solid presentation hanging on a wall I went back & included more of the original shot on the right. Is it an improvement? It depends on if you are looking at the print hanging on the wall or the screen of your desktop. Obviously my PS work has improved.

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I enjoy spectacular landscape photography & I enjoy the opportunity to experience impressive vistas. However, I’ve discovered I don’t have the kind of dedication to this particular genre to take it to another level. I will still wander with my camera, however I will try to improve my photography skills with other subjects.

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Part of my family’s history,as well as my own, is connected to Chautauqua Lake. When I saw the Steamship Replica the Chautauqua Belle along the port side of The Bemus Point Stow Ferry I was transported to an earlier time when few other vessels on the water had mechanical power. In the months ahead I may try some Photoshop wizardry on this shot. Too bad I’m not really a wizard.

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It has been almost 1 year since my trip to Cuba. The process of sorting/editing my images was a terrific opportunity for reflection on my abilities. It encouraged me to look forward to what I will do with photography. I’m hoping to cultivate connections for a showing of 15 or so of my portraits of Cuban People. A recent review I got from Lens Culture said my work “had incredible humanism in the portraits of Cuban people.” I liked that. The reviewer also said that, after looking at my blog, a book is something I should start working on. I don’t think that is going to happen.

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My own opinion of my sailing images is they are just slightly better than mediocre. That however will not stop me from pursuing this challenging subject I really enjoy. I’m in the planning stages of a trip to Newport RI to catch the 65 foot Volvo Racing beasts in May. Anybody care to join me???

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I also would like to further develop a portfolio of dance photography. Dancers have balance, form, color, The Moment, texture & space. What better subject for a camera. They blend emotions & athleticism into statuesque animation for our eyes.  Any connections in this area would also be appreciated. Happy New Year.

 

 

This is my 14th & final…for now…posting about Cuba.

The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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My decision to avoid Havana was helpful in minimizing cliché images & experiences. The smaller cities were more open to personal interaction. With few exceptions I easily engaged people with just a smile. In conversations thru my interpreter, politics was seldom a topic. My curiosity eclipsed any preconceived ideas I had about their day-to-day lives.

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I saw typical differences between young & old, city & rural, men & women even professional vs blue collar. What surprised me was a disparity of standards of living. Communism in Cuba is far from the theory Marx had advocated. I didn’t witness anything I would describe as poverty or affluence. However, I saw a comfortable cohabitation between those with more opportunities & a more comfortable way of life than others. I also recognized a discrepancy with access to & use of technology. Most of the digital divide coincided with age.

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Cuba has the natural resources of climate, beaches & tropical waters that attract tourists. Since the mid 90’s non-US tourism has provided a significant percentage of hard currency to the economy. The Cuban government owns most hotels. There are a few International chains but uncertainty has stalled investment. I find it difficult to believe that trinkets, restaurants & service jobs to the tourist industry can provide both a long term & broad based impact on the overall economic well being of the people. This is especially true if the government continues to keep restrictive oversight on commerce.

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The topography of the Cuba is diverse. Their are 9 UNESCO sites, 8 National Parks & 7 Biosphere reserves in this nation roughly the size of PA. I only took time to briefly explore 1 Bio reserve, which was impressive. There are numerous examples or environmental programs including organic & self-sustain farming. I got the impression many of these were out of necessity rather than altruism. However, the one dominant fact is that surrounded by water, it is easy for the government to control access on & off the island.

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The majority of people I interacted with have only known life under Communism. Some challenges they face have roots that go further back than 3 generations since the revolution. The Cuban people are far from illiterate or in ill health. Education & health care have been priorities of the Castro brothers & now economic reform has become a goal of Raul. Change is happening. However, over the past 5-10 years the pace is faster than it has been the precious 4 decades.

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For many Cubans on meager pensions & low paying government jobs their lives are Spartan. Food is rationed at Bodegas at subsidized prices with proportions determined by age & gender. I visited Orlando Zayas, my guides’ grandfather, in his 400 sq foot apartment. The space fronts a busy street & he rents a few square feet to enterprising merchants. He is content & fortunate that family lives close & visit frequently. He enjoys watching baseball & complained that boxers today were nowhere near as good as Joe Louis or Kid Chocolate. Talking about his life he said, “Communism does not work”.

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My primary goal was to photograph individuals & document their lifestyles. Generalizations can be dangerous but I can confidently say I was warmly greeted buy a population that is easygoing, resilient & enjoys life. Lacking commodities we take for granted Cubans make the best out of the situation they are in…even if they have to bend a few rules. Daily life is simpler & slower. Personal interaction is routine. No doubt there are problems but the people I met were upbeat. When I asked what made people so happy I was told, “We laugh at our problems so we have lots to laugh about”.

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I believe an individual’s work ethic is a reflection on their character. I saw many examples of confidence, problem solving, & a resourcefulness to work with what they have without complaining. Although the tempo of work isn’t equivalent to our expectations, Cubans have few distractions & a persistence to get the job done. They are proud of the work they do with their hands & find happiness in their accomplishments not their possessions. I have deep respect for what Cubans have archived with only the basic resources.

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The elements of culture are common. Art, music, literature, religion, food, architecture & fashion are things I observe when I travel. The details of these expressions make people & places unique. I have had very little exposure to Latin American. The rich culture of Cuba was a wonderful new vista. I observed a flair for painting that was cultivated after the revolution when national schools of art were created. In contrast to the many examples of architectural decay, the diverse art was a peak into the bright light of the soul of the people. In a society with few outlets for expression I sensed a passion in their demeanor for artistic freedom.

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Children give us examples of how we can enjoy life & accomplish more when we cooperate with each other. When I observed children I thought about my friend Mark Zinnoni. His mother fled Cuba’s oppression & he wasn’t happy I was going there because he felt it diminished the possibility of freeing Cubans from oppressive Communist rule. I respected his opinion & looked forward to sharing what I saw & experienced when I returned. Unfortunately he passed away before I departed. I like to think he would have enjoyed my perspective of the Cuban people. Amid the hardships there is a joy for life & hope for the future…emotion & optimism that were part of Mark’s character.

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Like most people when I read or hear about a place it is impossible have a deep understanding. Our perspectives, no matter how broad, lack the important element of a personal connection. Although many individuals I only met briefly, they will be a touchstone to my understanding of our neighbors. During my trip I was formed a deeper relationship with my guide Lidear. On my last night there he invited me to his “humble home with his family for a simple dinner.” For me it was an honor & a wonderful epilogue to my trip. As hurricane Irma was striking Cuba it was him and his family that were in my thoughts. I wish nothing but the best for him, his family & the people of Cuba whom I now know just a little bit better. I hope that my blog postings have opened the curtain just a bit to allow you to see the Humans of Cuba.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or comments on this or any of my postings about Cuba.

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.

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.

02
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.

03
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.

04
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.

06
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.

Rachel 01
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.

Cuban Casa

As I had hoped, Casa Particulars provided a memorable glimpse into a segment of Cuban society.

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Throughout my travels I stayed in Casa Particulars, which are similar to B&B’s in the US. Staying in private homes gave me a glimpse into lives of Cuban families that could be considered middle class. Villa: Tres Hermanas is the house of 3 sisters near Las Terrazas.

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Anabel & Mario & multiple generations of  family live under 1 roof. He built the home on land owned by his father & not seized after the revolution. He added an apartment on the roof for one daughter. When the room I stayed in wasn’t rented various family members sleep there. His parents cook many of the meals, do laundry & maintaining the chicken & pigs. While sharing small living spaces has challenges it reinforces a common history, provides a support group & creates esprit de corps within families.

02-1
In urban areas those that don’t own a home live in government owned apartments void of character. Many live on meager wages & pensions that can pay the state controlled rent & expenses. Due to a shortage of public housing there are waiting lists to get into these buildings. Although they provide people basic shelter at an affordable price, these buildings exemplify a basic flaw of Communism.

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Just outside the center of Vinales is a street lined with tropical colored Casa Particulars which are licensed by the state. It leads to the Valley of Silence & has quite a bit of local & tourist traffic. The region has many natural attractions making it a popular destination for visitors to Cuba. This influx of travelers allows homeowners in this community to participate in the growing opportunities for small businesses.

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The Caribbean weather has a significant influence on the design of courtyards & terraces as a part of the living space in old & new buildings. Windows & doors are large to allow daylight in. Timber is scarce so concrete is the common building material. Beautiful mosaics are abundant. The architectural style & detail of Spanish plantation homes, which are now mostly museums, are spectacular. However, understanding the inequities of the wealthy owners compared to the slaves/workers dampened my appreciation.

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An initial reaction to some living conditions might resonate poverty. However, the needs of people are simple & often the places they live in reflect that. The humble furnishings are a source of pride for this man whose son & grandson are putting a roof on a home he & his wife own. The most common deficiency I saw in these neighborhoods was inadequate infrastructure. The living conditions are far below the standards we expect. However, Cubans have pride in ownership of their Spartan dwellings.

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The overall consumption of electricity for average Cubans is low. Per capita they use 5% compared to the US. A few homes I stayed in had AC for guests but beyond that & refrigerators they had few electrical appliances. On many levels the services supplied by the government is lacking. But as with many problems, the people innovate a way to get it done. I am not an electrical engineer however; I do believe the tropical sun & low demand could be an opportunity for powering the entire nation with solar power.

07.2
This is the kitchen of my driver Ricardo where he lives with his parents, wife & son. His father is a doctor & his mother is a nurse at the local hospital. His father recently returned after working 2 years in a remote village in Brazil. Volunteering for that position the Cuban government raised his salary. Ricardo’s routine job is a programmer for the government. He works on the side as a driver earning .5 CUC per km. Their home is not luxurious but as a family they earn money outside the structured regulations to raise their standard of living. I asked why refrigerators were a few inches above the floor. Since most Cubans are meticulous about cleaning. The platform keeps the refrigerator dry during the daily moping of the floor.

07.3
In the Valley of Sugar Mills outside of of Trinidad a farmer has a small cozy 4 room home tucked into a shaded grove of trees. It sits a few hundred yards from the former plantation home of wealthy landowners from the 1800’s that is now a museum. The inhumane artifacts of slavery the farmer has uncovered while plowing the fields are displayed on the side of his home including leg irons, metal collars & handcuffs.

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In the urban center of Camagüey, & other cities, the centuries old narrow cobblestone streets have no room for parking. The entry room of many homes also serves as a garage for two wheeled vehicles.

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The openness & light throughout the homes enhanced soft tropical colors. I discovered wooden accents like the corner wall mounts. Those will be added to my wood shop projects.

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All the places I stayed were comfortable, clean & used attractive outdoor areas & rooftops as part of the living space. The aesthetics varied in each city & my experience was unique to each owner’s casa. The breakfasts were enough to get me to dinner although I think the start of my day was a bit early for most hosts. As I had hoped, Casa Particulars provided a memorable glimpse into a segment of Cuban society.

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.

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.

Artists of Cuba & their ART Part 2

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Sorting my images I recognized shots of artwork connected to some of my strongest memories of my trip To Cuba, Even if these photographs are what I consider substandard, especially compared to various people shots, I wanted to do another posting of Cuban art to give some insight into the character of the artists & culture.

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The pallet of colors Cuban artists use is weighted in the tropics. The subjects in much of their work is diverse interpretations of life on the island. In many variations, art is a voice that speaks to the emotion of people, places & times.

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I don’t know if the faces are specific individuals or if they are symbolic representations. When I think of Dark Imagery it usually lacks detail. In this work the detail is intricate to whatever the artist was trying to say.

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I’ve thought tile/mosaic work is between flat art & sculpture. I might even call it 2.5D. In public & privates spaces I found custom works enhancing the environment.

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In Cuban Art Part 1 I showed you Abel Garcia Leon in the business side of his home. With his dog keeping him company he is working on a fresh canvas in his studio beside his barbershop. The kitchen, bedroom & toilet are in the back.

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The work of his I saw hanging in his barbershop/studio was an interesting approach to pointillism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Seurat

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The Garden of Eden symbolism would be an interesting discussion I would love to have with the artist that created this painting. Symbolic biblical representation like this in a Communist country is an example of how art can transcend oppression.

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An artist in the tropics made me feel the cold winds of the sea with color & brush strokes. That is an example of how art can have an impact on senses beyond your eyes.

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The umbrella topic of this blog is motivation. The inspiration & evolution of the artist that made this piece would be a very interesting discussion.

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I believe it is very challenging to “fill the frame” in any visual medium. The easel is the perfect method to display this work. A frame would destroy the boundaries.

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Often as I wander thru galleries, shops & museums, I felt an overwhelming diversity of styles. The montage/collage displays demonstrated a co-op of the talent on the island as the images fought for my attention.

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As a photograph this is a complete failure with the exception of the subject. The trilogy of the work with the background drew me to try & capture something that I just couldn’t get. However, the diversity of the theme of vases really caught my eye.

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Most of the Casa Particulares I stayed in had artwork that complemented the homes. This outdoor courtyard in Camaguey had an elaborate wall mural made with 8X8 tiles fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The organic accents & the decorative ironwork were integrated in an interesting layout.

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I end this blog with another mediocre photograph. I did not take the time to wait for better human interaction with public art. I was on my way to Ballet Rehearsal which is the next posting in a few weeks.

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.

Artists of Cuba & their ART Part 1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.

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

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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.