It Begins with the Eyes

re: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Eyes

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I’m a fan of street photography but when I’m on the street, I focus mainly on light and composition. It’s in the post-selection work that I look for finer details. For street portraits, it begins with the eyes and ends with context.

For this week’s challenge I share pictures from a trip to Santiago de Cuba.

I was tramping through the grounds of an industrial property when I noticed this fellow eating his lunch.  My first instinct was to turn away – I was trespassing – but then he waved hello.  Like everyone I’d met in that sleepy town, he was friendly and curious about what I was doing.  He told me about his work; it had something to do with digging utility poles and hauling them around in his ’60s-era truck.  My understanding was limited, I knew just enough Spanish to give an illusion of comprehension.  But I nodded wisely and asked if I could take his photo.

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I met this other fellow several times during the trip.  He was a musician in the local band and I enjoyed his music in the town square and swanky hotel resorts. On this particular day he welcomed me to his workshop where he built and repaired guitars. Cuba is a resource poor country and musicians have a hardscrabble life. Even so, it’s clear that for some at least, their revolutionary leader is still admired.

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Photos taken in Cuba, 2018


Los Hombres de Santiago de Cuba

Cuba is nothing if not colorful.

Warning: Images of extreme color and machismo ahead.

A Blue Wall and so much more
Take me away in a Purple Cadillac
Real Men are not Afraid of Pink Walls

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.  2018 

via Daily Prompt: Warning

Digital vs Print: When Reality Bites

I learned a harsh lesson in portraiture this week:  Digital is not the same as Print.

It’s a surprising realization that after four years of photography I’ve never actually printed my pictures.  I’ve been satisfied with sharing them here, on Flickr and  other social media. That changed when I committed to mailing prints back to the folks in Cuba.

But let’s rewind a bit.

The highlight of my recent trip  was the opportunity to take pictures of people.  I met members of the Chivirico community and with their gracious consent, took some wonderful portraits. As an additional bonus, on the last day our group had a full day model shoot with a troupe of professional dancers. It was an chance for composed shots with enthusiastic and ‘malleable’ subjects.  As a gesture of appreciation I agreed to send printed pictures back to the community.

And here is where reality bites.

Portraits that looked perfectly fine on screen showed up harsh and unflattering in print.  So many of these folks had been charming in person; I hated sending back ugly photos. I hastily adjusted the images, dialing back on clarity to soften the details and smoothe out natural skin imperfections.  Softer, toned down images resulted with improved print quality.  On screen the visual effect was almost as dramatic.

My lesson learned?  For close up portraits, particularly those slated for print and people you’d rather not hate you, hold back on the clarity.

On the other hand, for my model pictures I allowed for more dramatic license.  There were some pictures where I’d scaled back on the clarity, reprinted the image and then decided that I preferred the original.

For example this portrait of Graciano.   I think the hard lights on his face adds a gritty edginess to the picture.   It elevates it  from being a nice shot to being an interesting one.

Or so I think.   What about you?


Photos taken Cuba. March 2018

Cuban Street Portraits

If you’re a fan of Street then you’ll know that the  #1 Fear of all new and no-so-new street photographers is the Fear of Strangers.  We all have a natural shyness about approaching strangers.  But if you’re like me, who believes that the only interesting street shot is one with a face in it, then you’ll figure out how to overcome this.

I admit that its easier to take street portraits when travelling abroad. There’s a comfortable camouflage in being a tourist. With hat, camera and obvious unfamiliarity with the language it’s easy to smile, point and share pictures on your camera.  Couple that with a few key words for beautiful, “Linda!” , “Bonito!”, “Muy hermoso!” and you have the magic for engaging with a stranger and making portraits.

The Portrait Shot

My favorite shots are those that capture an expression that hints at the personality.  Most of the time, I find it after after the initial photo, when I’ve come up close to share his/her picture on my camera’s LCD. The subject is now relaxed and I’m close enough for a very personal portrait shot.

If helps of course, to know a few more words of the language.  That way, I can walk away with a bit more knowledge of the person.   Granted, the knowledge may be incomplete and probably wrong (there’s a direct correlation between language proficiency and understanding) but at least I  have something more to remember him/her by.

The Cable Guy’s name was Alejandro (or maybe it was Guillermo.)  I’d been admiring his sturdy red truck. This being Cuba it was a solid, all metal 1960’s era vehicle, reconstructed from parts and a chimera of brands & manufacturers.  Alejandro was in the telephone cable business, he hauled telephone poles, dug & installed them … or so I understood.

The Cable Guy

Ramon the Guitar Player serenaded me with Cuban ballads played on his front porch.   He told me a long and involved story about his time in Santiago (it could have been Havana) where he met other chinos like me.

The Man in the Blue Box Balcony (sorry I don’t remember your name) was relaxing on his day off.  He asked me if I was staying at the local hotel and when I said “sí”, said that he worked there too.

Ramon the Guitarrista
Man in Blue Box Balcony

Abuelita was the charming grandmother of Tomás who found my walking group wandering in a dried out riverbed and invited us home for a visit.  Abuelita wanted to give me a manicure. Tomás introduced me to santeria … and the topic for another post.

Stay tuned until then.

Abuelita (Little Grandmother)



Chivirico, Cuba.  February 2018

A Walk through Chivirico

Neighborhood shop

As you may have guessed, I spent the last week in Cuba, although not  (as the song says) in Havana.  Instead we stayed at a little village called Chivirico, about 90 minutes out of Santiago de Cuba and 840 km east of Havana.

Chivirico is a small rural community set between the mountains of Sierra Maestra and the Caribbean Sea.  Our guide told us that 15,000 live in Chivirico but most stay in the mountains. My estimate is that 14,524 people live in the mountains  since there was no where close to that number of people in the village. Having said that, there’s no doubt on the total population as the hamlet was well serviced with a school, a church, a couple markets, a farmacia and bus terminal.    There was also a  lot of goats.  Not surprising since goats are the village’s namesake (chivo).

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Where there are schools there will be playing fields.  Cuba’s favorite sport is baseball and on this particular afternoon, I was treated to local game.  Everyone participated, even the goats.  And for those kids not old enough for the team, there’s lots of adventure to be had in the surrounding trees.

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Chivirico, Cuba. 2018

Ooh Nah Na

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Somewhere in Canada it’s been snowing this past week.

I was not there.

Can you guess where?

If the pictures are not clue enough, the post’s title and this song are hints.   In fact, consider this song to be a backtrack for my next few posts.

Somewhere Not in Canada, February 2018