Critique Reinforced a Change in Direction

01 copy

I recently went to a portfolio review hosted by Richard Kelly. Not only was it valuable to hear critique of my own images but the overall evening was insightful. The experience of seeing the work of other photographers while listening to the critique of their work motivated me in an unexpected way.


Sue Abramson was the artist doing the reviews. Prior to her individual review of the each photographers work, she gave a presentation of her book “A Woodlands Journal”. Her imagery was captivating. But most impressive to me was her commitment to the subject for 4 decades. It reinforced how much I just bounce around with my camera.


I was torn between the styles of presentation of her review. The projected digital images allowed the entire group to see in a theater setting. However, all of the bumps associated with electronic presentation were there.


I do enjoy looking at a print & this method of review allowed a broader critique of the images as well as the perspective of examining the story/style. The downside was that it’s hard for a group of people to gather around a table to engage with what she was saying & demonstrating. The options for sharing our work are numerous & should be molded to the venue and the viewer.


Most of the work of the other photogs at the review had some sort of underlying nucleus. It was inspiring to see & learn about the vision of talented local photographers who have, or are exploring, a personal style in their artistic endeavors.


During all of her critiques it wasn’t so much the specific comments she gave that resonated with me. It was her overall perspective looking at the collections of the images of the other photographers that opened a new vista for me.


My “portfolio of images” had no theme & is best described as eclectic without foundation. I doubt my motivation in photography will ever become focused on one genre. I believe I am destined to be a generalist. I have recognized this for a while & embrace the diversity. However, the next review session I take part in I will put together a theme of images, which I believe will result in a more valuable feedback.


Critiquing my images Ms. Abramson encouraged me to pursue subjects I mentioned I enjoy like dance & sailboats while giving relevant critique on some of my other images. I realized that on this blog the written support is the strength of my style of story telling. While my images on any particular posting have some commonality, the visual theme usually is linked by the text. I’ve put more emphasis on prose than image continuity in an effort to improve my writing.


As you can see by the images in this posting, the subjects of my photography are diverse. I like the challenge of some subjects. I believe it’s important to document the human condition. Often something will just catch my eye. People have so many varied activities I am motivated to capture candid moments. The beauty in the natural world is an inspiring subject. I’ve gotten better at tuning my eyes to light & shadow. I also have become comfortable with Photoshop to enhance or occasionally modify an image. I’ve even ventured into the challenges of Black & White. The title of the Scorsese film about Dylan No Direction Home resonates.


I can not ignore the inspiration I got in my youth from photojournalism. I will still attempt to capture moments that resonate ideas. However, the ability of using photography to expand & explore creative points of view is something I will try to embrace.

10 copy

My take away from the evening motivated me to change my publishing schedule for this blog from twice a month to a more relaxed “whenever I have something to say” deadline. I had been feeling some self-inflicted pressure to do the 2-blog postings a month I’ve done since 11/15. I’m now motivated to explore a more visually dominate approach to story telling. I’ve proven to myself the writing of stories to accompany my photos in the style of “show & tell” is something I can do.

10_60332 copy

I will be interested to see where this leads. Comments & suggestions are always welcome. After 73 blogs that began over 3 years ago using over 58 thousand words I no longer find value in a self-imposed deadline. Spelling… always a work in progress.

Motivated Explorer

If you read the last 3 posts about incentives for my Photo Essay in Cuba you will see twists & turns. With departure less than a week away, reflecting on the evolution of my motivation has been clarifying. One year ago at this time I was getting ready for my last remote & retirement. That page of my life has been turned. Now, I am confidently looking forward to first-hand inspiration during a brief immersion into a foreign culture.


If you read the last 3 posts about incentives for my Photo Essay in Cuba you will see twists & turns. With departure less than a week away, reflecting on the evolution of my motivation has been clarifying. One year ago at this time I was getting ready for my last remote & retirement. That page of my life has been turned. Now, I am confidently looking forward to first-hand inspiration during a brief immersion into a foreign culture.

If any one word describes my trip I guess explorer comes the closest.   Although my actual time there will be short I believe the culture of the Cuban people is worth experiencing & attempting to understand. Even though I haven’t yet set foot there, the research & planning has been an enjoyable & valuable learning process.

What something is can sometimes be defined by what it is NOT.

This trip is NOT a job…nobody is paying me. It is NOT a vacation…recreation & relaxations are not goals. I am NOT part of a group…this is an independent excursion. I am NOT a tourist checking items off a list to say, “Been there-done that”. I am NOT trying to be a time traveler stepping into Doc Brown’s DeLorean to return to the 50’s.

At its core, motivation is a desire to do something. Defining general goals early on was helpful. I knew in retirement I wanted to do more photography. I also looked forward to having time to learn new things. And, after a hiatus from the airport, I wanted to visit new places. This trip targets those ambitions.

My curiosity & research identified potential objectives, which became more specifically defined. What I perceived as obstacles melted into logistical challenges. The preparation fueled my enthusiasm while diluting apprehensions.

Groundwork I did in advance of the trip galvanized my efforts to improve & expand my photography skills. Reading books & watching documentaries about Cuba helped satisfy some of my inquisitiveness. Looking at the work of other photographers made me eager to meet the people of Cuba & glance into their lives. The next step, after I pack, is doing it.

I also have secondary incentives. Going somewhere that has been forbidden for most of my life sparks my sense of adventure. I also like rum and must confess, I’m looking forward to the warmth & longer days near the Tropic of Cancer.

Any sojourn will have a few surprises. These are a few I’ve already encountered.

I am flying with Frequent Flyer miles. Two years ago the only way for most US citizens to get there was illegally departing from another country. This is a example of how things have changed. OBTW my AA million miles status got me first and business class seats. Jay got his upgrade!

Since the embargo was an economic action, the Treasury Department not State Department, authorizes trips to Cuba. FYI tourism/vacation is not an acceptable reason. I am traveling for the dual category of people to people & journalism. My permission slip from the treasury was a form letter.

Removing the embargo will take an Act of Congress. Eisenhower began it by restricting arms in 1958 and later he and Kennedy escalated it to include almost all economic, commercial and financial activity.

There are 2 currencies on the island. The CUC is for foreigners & CUP for citizens. The economic embargo prevents the use of US credit cards. Exchanging US dollars for CUC has a 10% tax. Other currencies do not have that tax.

A woman by the name of Celia Sanchez had a dominant role in the revolution and lived in the mountains with Fidel’s armies. I didn’t expect that in a machismo setting.

One disappointing surprise was that the rum distilleries are located on the Western part of the island, which I will not be visiting.

Almost always a disappointment is Verizon. I was told in December I could get an International Plan for use in Cuba. $40 per 100 min. Surprise Surprise I had been given bad info. The only Cuba plan is $2.99 per min or $300 for 100.   Basically 7 times more expensive than the information I was given about 6 weeks ago. I will just deal with a pre-paid card in Cuba. Verizon consistently has given out bad, or at best, confusing/conflicting/inaccurate information.

While I have confidence in my overall plan I know that once I get there it will be necessary to adjust & to some degree & “make it up as I go along.” Having worked on location doing video production for 40 years I am well prepared for not everything going as planned.

My mantra for retirement has been slower & simpler. Island Time should mesh with that attitude just fine. I look forward to taking advantage of opportunities that unfold right in front of me without being overly concerned with a defined schedule. I also anticipate introspective discoveries on this journey.

Cuban history is filled with numerous transitions. With Raul Castro saying he will step down in February of 2018 & the recent death of Fidel, the 14 months in between the exit of the Castro brothers could be significant. Will the world look on this period of time as the epilogue of the Castro’s rule? Might it be the prelude to a new beginning? Will Fidel’s comment that History will absolve him be true? How will new generations define Cuba Libre?

I can’t help but expect that this is a period of time of yet another significant change in the lives and the history of the Cuban people.

Look for my 1st posting in mid February.

Motivated by Curiosity, Understanding & a Friend


The previous post about my Cuba Photo Essay explained my shallow knowledge of this nation. In this post I explain how curiosity blended with extraneous experiences, including becoming friends with Mark Zannoni, evolved into a motivation to explore & understand a culture, which is rich in character.

Snippets I read about Cuba revolved around Spain, galleons & the slave trade. It was a cursory foundation of historical knowledge. Their path of independence seemed irrelevant. Roosevelt’s involvement in the Spanish American War veered my attention towards US involvement in other parts of the world.

Growing up in the 60’s I knew Cuba was a communist country & Fidel Castro lead the revolution. With a teenager’s perspective, I knew Cubans risked prison, torture or even death. Freedoms of speech, like those protesting in the US, were not allowed in their country. Because of where I was born, my life was much freer. I couldn’t grasp life under communist rule but yet I was curious about the lives of people on this tropical island.

I had empathy for anybody risking their lives on overcrowded boats to escape tyranny & admired the courage to liberate their lives. Leaving family, homeland & your culture is a hard decision. To risk death is an entirely higher level of determination.

In 1986 I peaked behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow during the Goodwill Games. In many ways my eyes were opened. I learned “Evil Empire” didn’t apply to everyday people. I could tell from the demeanor, posture & expressions of Soviets they had little joy in their lives. I questioned if I had the durability to survive in their society. I recognized that even with hardships in the Soviet Union, it was their home & had been for generations. I wondered if tenacity fueled a pride in their culture & heritage.

After the Berlin Wall came down Communism in Europe was collapsing. Cuba depended on the USSR for 30 years & totalitarian control in Cuba was sure to fall like other Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. But that didn’t happen. Why? From my time in Moscow I knew people living under Communism needed strength. This tenacity must also be part of Cuban society. Had hardships evolved into a determination for survival?

Compassion is one thing but I still lacked understanding.

From the perspective of a Freelancer I appreciated opportunities Cubans couldn’t even dream about. My career allowed me chances to work in a medium built on the foundation of Free-Speech, I worked Independently with clients, & truth be told…cameras & TV equipment are fun tools to make a living with & I enjoyed my trade.

In the 90’s I became friends with Mark Zannoni, a fellow freelancer transplanted from Chicago to Southern Florida. I remember him translating at a restaurant in FTL. Since I’m ignorant in any language except English, I was curious how a kid from Chicago named Zannoni knew Spanish.   He told me his mom escaped from Cuba & he learned it from her. I now had a connection to Cuba.

Over the years I picked up bits of information from him. As with many of Mark’s opinions, he was adamant about complete change of government in his mother’s native land. When he told me an Uncle was part of the Bay of Pigs Invasion I began to understand his emotions. It was personal to him. A perspective I lacked but respected.

In 2008, when Fidel handed over power to his brother Raul I asked Z if he would consider visiting Cuba. As I mentioned, he was adamant…”No! Raul is even more vicious than his brother.” They both must go before he would ever visit his mother’s place of birth. The reality of government oppression was close to him & many others. The community of expat Cubans was a generational stew of emotions.

So all of these things were percolating in my mind. As I approached retirement I wanted to reward myself with a trip. I also knew I wanted to rekindle my enthusiasm for photography. The drastically different way of life in Cuba along with the US’s evolving relationship was the chance to do both.

I want to see & experience to better understand the culture of the people in Cuba.

Just before retirement at Super Bowl 50 I was playing dominoes with Mark. He is the kind of friend you can have a good disagreement with & remain close. I explained my plan of a Photo Essay. His questions revolved around “Your just one person. You can’t change things.” My response was “I want to experience the people & the culture”. He felt I was supporting the Castro’s but was interested in learning about my trip. I don’t know if our conversation distracted him but I won 5 games of dominoes to his none.

In October of last year, at 49 years of age Mark Zannoni passed away. I miss him & grieve for his family & many friends. I’m sure that throughout my trip he will be in my thoughts. Z’s spirit for life motivates me to capture the soul of the Cuban people.