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.

Sisters

In barbershops & salons people still talk to strangers & this is where I met Virginia & Laura. It was immediately obvious they enjoyed life & had been for a long time. I expected they would have interesting stories. Inspired by Studs Terkel & Humans of NY, I arranged to interview/photograph them. These sisters spent most of their lives together. During our conversation they kept returning to familiar themes that helped define who they are. This post is a prelude to my upcoming trip. I will be interacting & photographing people from a different culture to get a snapshot of their lives and sharing it on this blog.

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In barbershops & salons people still talk to strangers & this is where I met Virginia & Laura. It was immediately obvious they enjoyed life & had been for a long time. I expected they would have interesting stories. Inspired by Studs Terkel & Humans of NY, I arranged to interview/photograph them. These sisters spent most of their lives together. During our conversation they kept returning to familiar themes that helped define who they are. This post is a prelude to my upcoming trip. I will be interacting & photographing  people from a different culture to get a snapshot of their lives and sharing it on this blog.

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Virginia Curro was born in 1917. Talking about her childhood she spoke of a wonderful relationship with her mother who gave her the self-confidence she was lacking. Her home life was being part of a “secure family that wanted their children”. Mom was wise, father humorous & her sister could do anything. Memories of her brother focused on a generous person who enjoyed helping people. She still had admiration for her Latin & piano teachers. Due to the depression she was unable to finish college & got a job with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Later, she ran the office for her sister & brother-in-law’s dairy ranch in California. She never married.

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Laura Curro Lapari was born in 1914 and also talked about the benefits from a good education. Unlike many young women of this time she got a college degree at Flora Stone Mather College with a degree in Romance Languages. Reflecting back she recalled people there had “less than an open mind”. Studying in Italy with her sister, Laura met the man that would become her husband. Part of that time in Italy she was an interpreter for American Intelligence during WWII. Her memories of her mother are as humble yet regal & “someone who could give Confucius a run for his money”. Since her parents both had emigrated from Italy they lacked an extended family, which she feels made her “close to her sister from birth”. Describing Virginia she called her an angel.

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It was obvious Virginia is more reserved than her older sister but still engaged with people & the world around her. Talking about music she told me songs made her happy by touching her heart with wonderful memories of family. She is philosophically curious as to how people phrase their thoughts. She thinks to many people rely on media instead of forming their own opinions. Virginia is still inspired by “an aggregate of the people she meets” & describes how her and Laura “hold each other up”.

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Laura is dramatic with her voice & her actions. She thought of becoming an actress but taught High School & at Case Western. She speaks 5 languages has written 7 children’s booklets while a trilogy she wrote about her father-in-law is waiting to be published. Currently, her time is spent writing an autobiography. Emotions filtered her voice as she told me about the depression. Asking if I had heard the song Brother Can You Spare a Dime she was visibly depressed telling me “it hurts when I hear that song…I saw that”. Laura acknowledges the greatest gift as “love of family”. She enjoys watching The Great Courses & thinks she would be a better teacher today than she was before.

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These 2 women, 1st generation immigrants born in Cleveland, are a touchstone to a different era void of the reach of the Internet but rich in personal interaction. There is depth to each of them transcending longevity. A foundation of family & education was a springboard to a life they embraced & continue to enjoy. Their individuality compliments each other in a way that may be unique to sisters. They are articulate, funny & generous with wonderful memories full of details. I hope this brief essay gives you a taste of the strength of their character as well as warm personalities that make you smile.

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I knew their glasses would be a challenge in getting good portraits but I worked with the reality of the situation. I like using available light but it does cause moments of angst. The showroom of Imagine provided nice afternoon glow with an eclectic background juxtaposing the basic clothes they wore. I found interviewing 2 people while taking photographs wasn’t as challenging as I thought. Everybody has a story to share.  The link & longevity of these sisters is indeed a special story.  I feel lucky to have spent a few short hours learning about these 2 wonderful women.

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Non-Talking Heads

During my career I shot thousands of Talking Heads. With my eye in a viewfinder or watching monitors I saw moments where character was revealed on top of features. Usually it was as subjects listened so it rarely made the edit. Some video/film works paint a picture of people well. However, the portrait is a genre of stills. Portraiture is a significant goal of my upcoming photo essay.

During my career I shot thousands of Talking Heads. With my eye in a viewfinder or watching monitors I saw moments where character was revealed on top of features. Usually it was as subjects listened so it rarely made the edit. Some video/film works paint a picture of people well. However, the portrait is a genre of stills. Portraiture is a significant goal of my upcoming photo essay.

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Some portraits will always convey personal memories & relationship. On the deck of The Harp & Fiddle Jerry Hughes returned my Ike 55 I loaned as back-up about 10 years ago. Since the early 80’s we have worked alongside each other in a spectrum of capacities. His professional attitude & personal friendship are traits I see in his wise eyes. A Chicagoan by birth he came to Pittsburgh via ND & LA. Thanks for everything!

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This docent/guide at Ft. Niagara had the perfect face of a young soldier. The soft reflective light bouncing off the deep walls of the fortress window was about perfect. I’m trying to engage interesting people to get more intimate photos. I did direct him where to look for the best light/shadows. The expression in his eyes of a young mans apprehension in a far away land clutching his weapon was his own contribution.

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I believe people at work exhibit a glimpse of their character. Especially people engaged with tools. This craftsman in Copper Alley Sarajevo focuses on a detail of a small object. Surrounded by his work, the old eyes guide his hands as they have thousands of times. People in the books of Studs Terkel have inspired me. Working, his 74 oral history classic, heightened my interest in the stories of the individual at work.

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A Power of the portrait are details giving a taste of personality. The eyes & the subdue smile framed by his goatee show a friendly person. Adding his hand into the shot emphasizes strength. I worked with Slappy & I can affirm he is the type of person you enjoy working with & being around. The non-studio staged portrait provides challenges. By having him tilt his head & cropping the image very tight I was able to fill the frame almost completely avoiding BG distractions.

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I like people in candid moments. Even without the full face I consider this a portrait. It shows emotions in a moment of waiting. Holding herself tight we get a glimpse of her anxious face in profile. The tree is a barrier she looks beyond. The umbrella adds weight to the moment. I like how the visual elements come together. Rain provides opportunities that you need to look for. The work of Philippe Halsman can be credited for breaking the constrains of traditional studio 3 point lighting portraits. Some of his work with Salvador Dali is amazing. Currently, the images of Annie Leibovitz are some of the most inspiring portraiture I see.

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Some people smile using all parts of their face. On a rainy day this parking attendant had a smile for everybody. The pith hat is a perfect “topper” to the beard, nose, cheeks, &  the squinting eyes. His face toughened by the weather dominates even though he is wearing a neon safety vest. This portrait shows how all our features display emotion.

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Andy I’s deep-set eyes in shadow are a drawing feature. Shadows on his cheek etch strong facial structure & the reserved smile defines his personality. Headsets literally tie him to his craft. He is one of many top quality sports camera ops I was privileged to work with during my career. As a replay operator, aka slomologist, I watched thousands of hours of events thru the eyes of dedicated professionals like Andy. Watching, looking & examining the work of others is a tremendous motivator.

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Some say out of the mouths of children come honesty. I believe innocent eyes are where you find honest emotion. These 2 lived on a farm near The Jungle Dome in Central Belize. I prefer being ignored & become a fly on the wall taking pictures. In this shot these 2 toddlers were intrigued by my every move. The eyes define curious. I try to be respectful of parents wishes when taking photographs of children.

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Randy Gilson is described as a master in the art of making something worthwhile out of what is seen as worthless. Somehow I never heard of RandyLand but when I heard the basic description of eclectic re purposed art it was enough of a hook to get me to visit. I won’t try to describe what he has done to a corner setting in the North Side of Pittsburgh other than with this portrait of him. He is one-of-a-kind with a mission that can be infectious.

Inspired by Humans of New York, photos like these are a goal for a 2-week trip to a country in the tropic of Cancer. I am practicing this genre to improve my approach & techniques with the goal of documenting people & stories of their lives. Suggestions welcomed as well as critique.  Coming up in my next post I look at 2 spirited sisters.

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