Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Opening Reception: "Cuba: From Inside and Out"

Works from U.S. and Cuban Photographers Unveiled

Last Thursday, Nov. 4, the opening reception was held for "Cuba: From Inside and Out" at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery at Foothill College. It was great to see everyone come out and support this show; we had a wonderful turn-out.

We received lots of questions about what Cuba was like; and people at the opening seemed intrigued by the few small photographic glimpses and answers that we were able to provide. Any country of 11 million people is impossible to sum up in a few words, especially given that we had seen parts of only three cities during our 2-week trip. Another question was: how many pictures did you take? Assuming that each of the 18 U.S. photographers took an average of 2,000 images during our trip, the exhibit represented a tiny percentage of the 36,000 total images that we took during our stay in Cuba.

Many wonderful stories ended up on the virtual cutting room floor, but there was still a great variety of shots and subject matter at this show. Thanks again to Ron and John for their curating talent and to everyone else for making this show happen.

We were very fortunate to be able to show the works of the Cuban photographers on a big screen at the center of the exhibit this evening; and those in attendance commented how they enjoyed seeing this diverse body of work.

And, after all the work leading up to this show, it was only fitting to be able to enjoy some lighter moments -- visiting with people, enjoying non-alcoholic mojitos, plantain chips and black bean dip, and other treats.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Installing the Exhibit - Oct. 29, 2010

The Hanging

The Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery was filled with a small group intent on getting a job done today. Important issues were being discussed:

"What did it look like in your pre-viz?"
"Do you think it looks better here, or is that too low?"
"Can you hand me those scissors?"
"Do you remember how to tie a slip knot?"

"Were you going to pre-cut pieces of fishing line? Once those pieces get tangled up with each other, they can be impossible to get them apart..."
"You put the backing in upside down. Can you fix that?"
"We only have one stepladder. Do you think we could get another one?"
"Hmm. This picture is sticking out from the wall farther than this one. Can we fix that?"
"How big will the tables be for the food at the reception?"

All these questions were answered, and more, at "the hanging" today. Being present for part of installation day was a good reminder of how many details there are to attend to, even with the simplest exhibits. While pre-planning and basic tools such as scissors, levels, measuring tapes, spools of fishing line, and cardboard placeholders, can go a long way, there's nothing like a great team of ready-for-anything professionals.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cuba: From Inside and Out - Updates Oct. 18, 2010

Finalizing and Framing Images; Getting the Word Out

It takes many people to make a show happen. Friday, October 14, the group met in Los Altos to unveil final image selections for the upcoming exhibit, and to discuss related topics. Thank you to John and Ron and others who helped curate, make decisions on formats, and plan for this exhibit. Framing and matting could now get underway for images selected for the final exhibition. And image information was finalized for wall labels, price sheets and other information.

The exhibit name has been finalized: "Cuba: From Inside and Out, An Exhibition by American and Cuban Photographers." Work continued on getting out show post cards, a press release, and the opening reception on Nov. 4th.

Next Step: Finish framing, and bring framed photographs to the Krause Center for Innovation for hanging later this week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cuba Exhibit Updates - October 5, 2010

Nailing Down Exhibit Specifics

A location has been determined (see below); discussions are happening with participants from both the U.S. and Cuba; and decisions regarding formatting, invitations, final selection, curating, and many other important tasks are underway.

This exhibit will take place from from Nov. 1 - Dec. 6, 2010.

The opening reception for this Cuba-focused exhibit (final show name being decided as I write this) will be held, Thurs., Nov. 4, 2010, from 5 - 7 p.m., at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI), at Foothill College, in Los Altos Hills, CA.

Gathering photos for an exhibit

What Makes An Exhibition-Quality Image?

It is difficult to boil down 1,000s of photos from a trip into a few selections for an exhibit. As the Cuba trip came to a close, efforts to pare and sort digital and film images ramped up. Draft images were posted on a site for review comments and discussion.

Questions were asked, such as: What images would be new and fresh, and yet also convey the essence of Cuba? We all loved the old cars, but should we avoid showing too many pictures of old cars in this exhibit? At some point, as the hard work of choosing a sub-set of final images sets in; you alternatively like and don't like your work, or question yourself: Hasn't it all been done before? Are any of my images really any good? But, final decisions are made. And being part of a talented group where members can provide support, accountability, and a fresh perspective is very valuable.

Havana - September 13, 2010

Return Flight(s) Home

Today, all but a few of our group left Cuba, and flew back to Cancun, Mexico.

Making our way through the Havana airport, there was little time to reflect on all that we'd seen during our visit to Cuba; however, there was one last chance to see a few items we might have missed in small airport shops -- such as the chocolates lined up in the case at the Aurora counter (shown).

Seeing a mojito on a nearby table, I couldn't help but wonder if the freshly muddled mint in that drink had been grown on a farm that we toured, or one like it.

Then it was time to depart for Mexico/United States. And, soon we were settled in on a Cubana Air flight. There were no in-flight magazines, like we might see on U.S. flights. So, instead, we were reading the Cuban newspaper "Granma International" that had been passed out, in which Fidel Castro discussed his concerns over possible nuclear warfare and other topics. And, we enjoyed watching clouds. Wait, that one does look like a bear, don't you think?

Havana - September 12, 2010

Meetings and Presentations at Fototeca, in Havana

Fototeca de Cuba is a hub for professional photographers in Havana. Today we met with several well-known and talented Cuban photographers, and were able to see their original prints, as well as presentations given by these photographers, including:

Raül Cañibano (Ercilla)
- Documentary photographer; showed black and white prints
- "Tierra Guajira" series - explores life in countryside; other series include "Habana" and "El Rincon" (the corner)
- He will probably move to digital, but hasn't yet.
- His work recently appeared in N.Y. Times ("In the Heart and Soul of Cuba" by Adriana Teresa - June 4, 2010)

Eduardo J. Garcia (Garcia*)
- Digital artist
- Photojournalist style
- He's interested in the inner life of Cubans, realities of life
- *Eduardo works with his twin brother (Orlando Garcia)

Arien Chang Castan (aka Chang)
- Documentary photographer
- Black and white prints
- Has photographed older people (over 100 yrs. old)

Leysis Casada (Vera)
- Started in documentary photography
- Pictures of her daughter; and nuns
- Digital collage shots - women's faces melded with textured walls, other images

Jose Victor Gavilondo 
- Son of Jorge Gavilondo, scientist and photographer
- Jorge also was there (showed us his work earlier)
- Jose showed some extreme close-ups, water frozen in mid-air, other studies
- Jose's photo "There is no blackout..." (shown at right)

Ludmila Velasco and Nelson Ramírez de Arellano
- A husband and wife team
- "Absolut Revolution" series (2002 - 2004)
- Also known for hotels in Havana series
- Nelson is shown with Ron Herman and Jesus (our guide and translator), at right.

Mario Diaz
- Showed black and white prints on table
- Gave a presentation on earlier black and white works, plus some color
- Was friends with Korda (who took famous picture of Che); Diaz took a picture of Korda holding his Che photo.
- Shown with Ron Herman (both wearing hats) at right, below.

Perfecto Romero
- We also were able to visit with Perfecto Romero, who brought some of his black and white prints with him.
- Romero was assigned to cover Che Guevara, and took several famous pictures of Che and others around the time of the revolution.
- Romero is pictured at right, with members of our group.

Trinidad - September 11, 2010

Morning Trinidad Photo Walk
The morning began with a photo expedition through Trinidad. Getting out early to beat the heat was key during the time we were there -- ideally before harsh shadows form (shown here). It was a good opportunity to see artists, street vendors (e.g., a hat seller, a man selling carved musical instruments), and people going about their daily lives.

The yellow and green bell tower is visible throughout the city. It was worth a climb up the bell tower stairs to see the view of the green mountains, and the sea in the distance. Note: this same building also housed the "Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos Trinidad." There is a mention of the shooting down of the U-2 spy plane (U.S.), and some other efforts that were perceived as trying to destabilize or re-gain control of Cuba after the revolution in the early 1960s.

Lunch in the Country
After the morning photo walk, we left to drive back to Havana. A country lunch stop found us eating with some chickens and other rural denizens nearby. The rooster seemed to be giving us the evil eye -- maybe he knew we were having chicken for lunch.

Dinner at La Floridita, Havana
The writer Ernest Hemingway drank here,...and also here. It seemed like we heard this quite a bit around Havana. Hemingway liked to drink, and he used to live in Cuba. In fact, there was a life-size statue of Hemingway leaning against the bar in La Floridita, a bar and restaurant in Havana that claims to be the home of the Daiquiri drink. After taking more photographs for an hour or two, we walked to La Floridita for dinner, before returning to our hotel a few blocks away. The food at La Floridita was quite good.

(Thank you for the creme de cacao birthday present all.)

Trinidad - September 10, 2010

Trip to the Mountains, Trinidad

The group took a trip up into the mountains today, taking part of the journey in a large, covered (but open on the sides) truck.

On the activities list for today: a walk and a pig roast barbeque at Hacienda Codina (that also offered a special drink made with ginger, honey, lemon and rum).

There are some interesting colorful birds in Cuba, including a parrot I believe, and the very small bee hummingbird. Apparently, some interesting birds were heard in the on hike, but the birds chose not to come out and be seen or photographed.

The Disco Cave (near Las Cuevas Hotel)

After a dinner meeting at the hotel, two of us set off to find the disco in a cave that was mentioned to us yesterday. We stumbled down what looked to be a cow path in the dark, and saw a tarantula and a large slug on the ground on the way. At some point, after an old horse looked up at us, we felt uncertain we'd be able to find the disco; but then we saw a few people starting to line up outside an opening in the side of the hill nearby.

The disco opened at 10 p.m., and we were able to take a quick tour with a security guard, before opening time. The guard was very informative, and talked about the disco, and the legends associated with this cave system. (Picture showing guard at top of large flight of steps/seating in cave, at right.)

This disco was much bigger and more impressive than I would have thought -- so much so that I neglected to take any good pictures, e.g. of the disco ball hanging from the cave ceiling, or the enclosed DJ room, or the two dance floors inside, etc. Amazing place, and thank you to the guard, and to Bill Scull for being part of this short excursion. Note: flash photos at the cave entrance might disturb a small cluster of bats overhead, but once down in the cave this was not an issue.

Cienfuegos - September 9, 2010

Cienfuegos - > Trinidad
Today we left Cienfuegos and drove to Trinidad, one of the first settlements in Cuba (~1514 A.D.), with the first mass being said there in 1513. While the population shifted away from Trinidad to other cities later, the city is still a popular destination for tourists. We'd heard that some of the beaches here are quite nice, but given our tight schedule, it's unlikely we'll get to see them. On the way into town, we passed a large fish/shrimp farm. And we caught a glimpse of large rectangular pond-like structures at the edge of the water.

Our hotel, Las Cuevas (The Caves), we were told, would be perched on a hillside above the town, and was built on top of a large cave system. And, somewhere very close to our hotel there was a disco built into a cave. This sounded like an interesting place to visit and photograph.

Artists, Galleries, Trinidad

After we arrived in the town of Trinidad, our first few stops were to art galleries, to meet artists (Arocha; Alain Fernandez Ferreira (shown at right); Daniel Rodriguez, and others) and to see their paintings, cartoon/animation style illustrations, multi-media pieces, and some sculptures. Ferreira's works combined text and images from both the revolution and corporate marketing.

Visual Arts School in Trinidad

After the galleries, and a short walk through town, we visited the Academia de Artes Plasticas (a visual arts school), that also has incorporated folkloric arts and dance. The principal met with us, and gave us a short tour. Classes had just begun, and the school was gearing up for the new year. We visited their art studio, and there were some very nice works in their gallery. Once again, we heard that students were interested in photography, but due to the difficulties and costs involved in obtaining materials, it was difficult to offer photography classes, even if they did have darkroom space.

Trinidad Block Party

We then went to our hotel, Las Cuevas (mentioned above); and got ready to attend a block party in town. This CDR event made for an interesting evening -- a little awkward initially, but a great opportunity to meet local residents and participate in a celebration with them. Cake and drinks were served and music and dancing took place, after young children recited verses and performed short dance (ballet) and gymnastics routines.

Matt Drown (pictured right, in a very grainy photo) generated some buzz by bringing a photo printer and paper, so that he could take photographs and print out pictures for the crowd that grew up around him. Seeing kids recognize themselves in the photographs was priceless.

Cienfuegos - September 8, 2010

Cienfuegos roughly translates into 100 fires in English. Cienfuegos was also the last name of Camille Cienfuegos, a prominent member of the group of revolutionaries in Cuba who took power in 1959. This town had a historic square with some interesting buildings, including a theater.

The group toured a good-sized cooperative farm, and drove to Punta Gorda a point of land surrounded by water, where there were more interesting historic buildings. 

Havana - September 7, 2010

Hemingway House and Museum -> drive to Cienfuegos

On the way out of Havana, on the way to Cienfuegos, we stopped at writer Ernest Hemingway's old house which has been preserved as a museum after Hemingway left Cuba in the early 1960s.

It was possible to peer in the front door and in the windows of Hemingway's house -- and to see an old typewriter; stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls; and an empty bottle or two, or more. Through a small closet window, a uniform and boots were visible. Hemingway's fishing boat had been moved up to this property and was sitting in back of the pool. Also near the pool were the graves of four of his dogs: Black, Negrita, Linda, and Nerun.

Had a short walk out to the water, and down toward the old historic square. It was quite hot, and the air conditioning didn't quite reach to the room I was staying in; the chocolate I bought may be melting. But otherwise, it was an interesting place.

Havana - September 6, 2010

Presentations at Fototeca & Exhibition

This morning in Havana we saw lots of parents and children in uniforms headed off to their first day of school.

On the way to Fototeca, our guide and translator, Jesus, spoke to us a little about the Waves of Art/Style in Cuba, and the 3rd Avante Guard of paintings, which have an identifiable style: black outlines, stained glass colors/look; e.g. tile "painting" in courtyard we saw when we arrived at Fototeca.


At Fototeca, four members of our group gave presentations to audience that included several local photographers and artists. Jorge Gavilondo gave a quick introduction about our group, and overview about what some of our group would be presenting: our group is from the San Francisco Bay Area; we're here doing professional research; and Ron Herman (who will be presenting first) is a Professor at Foothill College.

Ron Herman- Digital Photography Presentation
"Fotographia Digital" - Digital Photography Presentation

Historical Context
- Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was introduced in 1990, and it was a very basic program; you could manipulate images, converted to a negative => onto a transparency => It was still important to print.
- In 1991, Kodak introduced a 1.3 Megapixel camera; it was a very large, heavy $25,000 camera.

Ron's Academic Background
- 1991- 1994 - graduate school University of Notre Dame
- Studied - Martina Lopez
- Scanned to film...went back to darkroom
- Collage was popular at the time due to Photoshop
Ron's Work Experience
- Spiegel, Ralph Lauren, some fashion work
- New York, Cornell University - a lot of good work, but he was interested in more digital
- Came out to California - San Francisco
- Foothill (film?) photography program was started by Marion Patterson, who worked with Ansel Adams & so the Foothill program was modeled after school.
Quote from Ansel Adams
Steven Johnson started the digital photography program at Foothill College - large format landscape photographer who shoots with a digital back. Foothill is located in Silicon Valley.
Foothill has some exhibit venues, e.g. we are planning to have an exhibit this Fall.
We're looking forward to having some shared images - some from Cuba; Ron is looking forward to talking further with those here who would be interested in being part of this exhibit.
Showed picture of the Lab at Foothill - high-end Apple systems, used for music as well.

Digital photography was not widely accepted
Foothill had a digital program, which was attractive, unusual at the time.
This was interesting, but digital wasn't "real" photography, some still thought.
The name of the program was "Photography and Digital Imaging"
But, people have been manipulating images since the beginning of time, e.g. (showed examples) from 1857, 1858 -- where they combined many images.
Jerry Uelsmann - well known for his work.
In 1997, we were running 8 different sections of beginning photography - with waiting lists too.
We had intermediate and advanced classes that would run also.
But we could barely get people to sign up for digital photography.

We went from 8 sections in darkroom to a dramatically reduced number, darkroom is barely staffed.
Several intermediate and advanced (traditional) classes were cancelled.
We created a hybrid traditional and digital course
We also changed our name to the Photography Department
And we have wait lists now in digital classes.

Teaching Challenges
- Develop Curriculum - what and how?
We had to create one; there really wasn't anything in place
- Textbooks
- Upgrading hardware and software
- Updating curriculum and materials, etc.

We're using Adobe Lightroom, Camera Raw, and Photoshop.
What we found was the the photo classes end up being tutorial sessions where, at least initially, more and more advanced students don't know how to use their cameras (more emphasis on computers/applications).
Fast-paced - we see more interest in workshops than long courses; students want the answer(s) now.
We've also been teaching online classes.
We offer at least 3 courses online per quarter; this helps open up who/how students can take classes.

Advisory Board
- We have representatives from hardware, software, education, and commercial areas to help keep us up to date.
- We hosted a conference with local photography departments, talked about changes, trends
- Some programs are teaching Introductory digital classes and darkroom for more advanced; some schools don't have a darkroom(s) anymore.

Examples of Ron's Work
- pinhole camera
- digital work
- traditional
- fashion
- Alaska - converted a camera to infrared (very interesting shots, examples)

Examples of Student Work
- Showed a very nice variety of shots from Foothill students

New Developments
- Metal Prints
- Chromogenic
- new on the market
- printing

Russell Brown (Adobe, Photoshop)
- RAW will become more and more important
- New ways to be able to see differences between JPEG and RAW regarding the ways of working with them.
- Video and still - will be able to get/grab a single still
- Canon concept camera introduced in Shanghai - 0-5,000 millimeters
with more focus, more storage, high(er) resolution

Other Trends
- fast wireless
- face detection
- super telephoto ranges
- image stabilization so can handhold with super (accuracy?); more touchscreen, fewer manual dials;
- will be able to grab a single still from a movie
- HDR image from a single photograph

Technology at Stanford University
- Light field camera
- Take a shot and change the focus later
- and will be able to copy focus from one layer to another
- HDR will become available on lower-end cameras
- more 3D options with cameras - we see this now with Fuji camera that shoots in 3D

Next: We have 3 individuals in our group who have something to show/present
1.) Harlan Crowder will talk about HDR workflow
2.) Neeley Main will talk about photo books
3.) John Thacker will talk about his personal workflow

"Post Cards From California" Exhibit
After hand-carrying our prints in mailing tubes to this venue in Havana (with fingers crossed that the tubes would not get damaged or misplaced in overhead compartments, buses, planes, etc.), it was exciting to see the groups photos nicely framed and hanging up on the walls. The mid-day reception was well attended, and it was great to speak to local photographers.

Union of Cuban Writers and Artists
After lunch, we were given a tour of the Union de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, which was located in a very nice facility, by a woman who was herself a union member/official.

We also walked through a gallery, and saw works on exhibit that resembled wooden toys or games with images/messages cleverly applied in black paint.

Farm Visit
We visited an urban farm this afternoon. A variety of crops were being grown, including lettuces; mint (for mojitos); sunflowers; sugar cane; herbs used for religious purposes; and some fruits.

Havana - September 5, 2010

Yoruba Association; Callejon de Hammel; Guillermo Bello

Yoruba Association
The first stop on today's agenda was a visit the Asociacion Cultural Yoruba de Cuba (Yoruba Association). We received a brief introduction to the fusion of Catholicism (the Spanish introduced Catholic dieties and saints) and African-Cuban traditions. Syncretism was the result of forced worship and the saint/diety approach. Regla de Ocho (rule of eight?) is the name of the religion. Yoruba refers to the region. Spanish didn't let Africans practice what was almost an animist religion, one with natural symbols.

We then went upstairs to look at a typical "shrine" type set-up of 8 vessels of water (that represent the rule of 8) that we may see around the city. Also in this area upstairs were physical models or representations of deities; and there were a lot of them. Some are warriors; some are male and some female; others play different roles. (I have more detailed notes on these deities, if anyone is interested.) After this tour, we saw an Oracle of Ifa (large round disc on wall with 256 symbols).

We were then ushered into a small presentation room, where we listened to a lecture on this religion, gods. There are 200 evil ones (who take part in evil in people - murders, drugs), and 201 good ones. This religion is very popular, a large percentage of the population observe traditions or have some belief in. All the religions in the beginning were making some kind of (live) sacrifices. Ocha de Regla is one of the only religions that still makes animal sacrifices (other religions use more symbolic means now).

Callejon de Hammel
We visited Callejon de Hammel, a narrow, street/alley in Havana, decorated with brightly colored walls and murals. It was crowded and a bit difficult to see everything. Behind the blue door (shown), rhumba music and dancers emerged (shown).

A small gallery/workshop (La Galleria - Taller) contained works inspired by Cuban religions with African roots. For example, there were Baba Lobo ("father wolf"); souvenirs. Inside the gallery/workshop, there was a Saint Barbara, up in a niche in one wall; and nearby was a representation of Chango (the young handsome god of thunder and the winds). Saint Barbara is linked with Chango in syncretism (fusion of Catholic and African traditions). There was also a paintings by Salvador Gonzalez, e.g. one was inspired by Echua, or the presence of Echua (another diety).

A man named Elias gave us a short presentation to us explaining a little about this street and what we were seeing; and then he also announced to the crowd that our group was there. (He also warned the crowd, half in jest and half not, to watch their belongings, in part because there were so many people in close quarters.)

Guillermo Bello 
Later we met with Guillermo Bello, who presented and talked about his work to our group. In setting this up, Bello had been asked about the series of photos that he took in Colon Cemetery, called "Luces y Sombras de la Eternidad" (Lights and Shadows of Eternity) from 2001. Bello also showed more recent and other work (doors and windows, other).

Bello talked a bit about what his thoughts were behind this series: "These works were designed to go beyond death. Some were more famous and were bigger - and some of these (statues/tombs) are in the worst shape now."

When asked if he was shooting digital, Bello replied "I was born a digital photographer." He was a physics engineer. He uses 2 or 3 of HPs printers (generations) with A3 format. Somtimes they get cartridges from other countries, such as Chile or China. Sometimes photographic papers are hard to get, so he uses different papers. He sometimes uses different emulsion treatments to get colors that are close to the results he wants. Blacks and grays are not always optimal. They have large format printers in a very few places. He's heard of some artists/photographers getting museum quality prints made from Brazil, and maybe a few other countries.

He did this Colon Cemetery series a little after 9/11/2001 (attacks in the U.S.), and some of these photos were taken during the Afghan invasion. He was/is trying to see the beauty that is there; trying to see how strong life is, e.g. in the vegetation (that keeps pushing up/through). He used a 2001 Olympus camera, with 3-4 megapixels. There were not many pixels in the camera, but they were good ones. Some print paper (said of prints he was passing around for us to look at) is watercolor paper; printed directly on watercolor paper (2002 series - blues and some other colors; doors; windows). Now he is working with a Nikon D300. He showed us a nice photo of a woman with a brushed surface.

He sells in several different galleries: the one in Cathedral Square; Obispo; Gallery Forma (sp?); at the airport. He has sold some prints in Spain. Sometimes he uses just a little watercolor or pastel to retouch the work.

More Questions and Answers:

Q?: Has he sold many prints in the work series?
A: Yes, when they had the exposition, they sold a lot.

Q?: What's he working on now?
A: He's got several ideas - currencies, passports, graphics elements....

Re: clothes blowing in balcony...
Instead of "Gone with the Wind" he wanted to focus on what wasn't gone with the wind, after Hurricane Katrina (Category 5). Fortunately, it did not go through (Havana?; could have been worse). "So I went out and took pictures of what was not affected," but could have been.

Q?: Do you use color management?
A: Yes, he bought a system recently to handle...

Q?: How many professional photographers does he think there are in Habana/Cuba?
A: He's not sure exactly. He knows some, but not all.

Q?: (to be continued...)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Havana - September 4, 2010

Havana: Colon Cemetery; Ferry Ride; Perfecto Romero; Children's Dance Theatre

Necropolis Cristobol Colon (Colon Cemetery)
There were many interesting statues, tombs, trees, and people in this cemetery -- named after Christopher Columbus.  Photographing in a cemetery can be awkward. For example, I tried to keep my distance when taking a picture of a burial service about to take place.

Some of the gravesites/monuments here are in great shape, others, not so much.
Ferry Ride 
We were able to take a ferry boat across the harbor to an area where there was an interesting church. Many people came to pray at this church, in part we were told, because of the black madonna there.

Perfecto Romero
Perfecto Romero, most well-known for his black and white photographs taken during the Revolution, spoke to the group about being assigned to follow Che Guevara and others during the late 1950s. We were able to see black and white prints from his extensive portfolio.

Children's Dance Theatre
In the evening we were treated to a performance by La Colmenita (the beehive). This group of children of various ages had been on tour, and I believe had performed in the U.S. as well.

Havana - September 3, 2010

The Photo-locusts Continue Their Trek Across Havana

Galerias del Santo Angel
Today we visited the Galerias del Santo Angel (Teniente Rey y San Ignacio, Plaza Vieja), where our photographs would be hung for an exhibit ("Post Cards from California") a few days from now. We discussed organization and set-up options for this show.

Museo del Chocolate
Stopped at the Chocolate Museum near the square (Mercaderes 255), and looked around, at display cases, old chocolate-making artifacts, and a solid chocolate high-heeled shoe, among other items.

Cigar Factory Tour
We also toured the Partagas cigar-making factory, although no pictures were allowed here. Cigars made here are called Habanos. Most of the cigar factories are in Havana, and most the tobacco comes from Pina del Rios area. Stepped through the process of harvesting and drying tobacco leaves. The price is set according to the weight and the quality of the leaves, not just the weight. Level of humidity is controlled throughout the process as well. If leaves are too dry, they might break. They use five different leaves from the same plant to make cigars.

The factory workers put in 9 hours; they had one hour for lunch. There were approximately 800 workers here at this factory, and they make 25,000 cigars per day (30 per day per person?). I smelled a chocolate smell as we were walking through one section. Interesting. It was quite loud in this factory; the factory workers were also being "read to." We were told they are read the news in the morning, and a book (such as a Shakespeare play or other work of literature) in the evening.

They organize cigars by colors -- 8 different colors, but quality inside is the same we were told. We paused at one woman's work area to see her sort a large pile of cigars from light to dark. They make different brands of cigars (Cohiba are the best, most expensive). Also: Monte Cristo and Romeo and Juliet. Some of these go for as much as 500-600 lbs. in Europe (U.K.?). Very pricey.

Our tour guide also talked about the role that Cuban cigars have played in stories reported worldwide, such as the Clinton scandal. We were told that Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp?) smokes Cuban cigars, as do other stars in Hollywood.

It was interesting to note that there was a "No Fumar" (No Smoking) sign on the wall in the box finishing/packaging room -- understandable, given the high value and probably flammability as well -- of the products boxed up in this room. However, there was someone smoking, in this same room, across from where we were standing.

Question: How long do cigars last?
Answer: In a humedor, they'll last up to 6-7 years; if you don't store cigars properly, they may only last 4-6 months.

Question: What would it take to be able to take pictures inside the factory (we were not allowed to take pictures the day we visited)?
Answer: Anyone interested in doing so would have to contact their corporate office (Habanos SA, Playa Miramar), first and make a case to the marketing department, and it might take a few days - 1 week to go through this process. It would probably cost $150.

There was a small/short discussion on cigar factory workers as we were walking to a gift shop type place next door to the factory. Cigar workers have a reputation for being well educated, conscientous. Reading to them helps them "increase their cultural awareness." For example, they might read "Romeo and Juliet" because that's also one of the cigar brand names. The hand rollers have the most prestigious jobs, and are paid fairly well. And if they go over their quota, they get paid more. Workers are not allowed to use strong smelling soap, perfumes, because it might flavor the cigars.

Wifredo Lam Art Center
Wifredo Lam was a famous Cuban painter and artist, who was friends with Andre Breton (father of surrealism) and others. They named the art center after him.

We met the director, curator, of the art center, in a conference room there; he welcomed us, and he talked about the Bienal Habana (the 10th annual biennial took place in 2009) and how it has produced some good works. Their focus at the center is on research and art. Their researchers track trends in art worldwide. He believes it is important to work in different themes. Creators from different regions interact and study across areas in common; they talk about trends. Workshops and work presented is reflected in the bienal (6 themes). Themes include: contemporary art and culture; art, society and the differences; immigration;  ("One Closer to the Other") was dedicated to communications. Urban Dynamics is another thread; as is Integration (and the resistance to that in a global era).

In the scout for new artistic talent, we have 200+ artists; 350 artists from 12 collective projects from all the previous bienal artists. It is an ideal place to do projects. They send invites to artists; they pay their own way? They get some support from institutes. Artists (are?) coming from Africa,
Caribbean, other areas.

He also mentioned the "Polaridad" exhibit that had shown recently in the U.S. (Sonoma County Museum) that Cynthia and I were able to see. This was one of the first exhibits to go out to the U.S. in a long while he noted.  By the way..."Cuban Art" magazine is a publication we might look at for more information. Tony Labat is a focus of an expo that's opening. Tony lives in the U.S., but still has a Cuban accent the director thinks (event though he doesn't speak Spanish). Tony left Cuba when he was 15 years old, and this year he is 50. The name of the exhibit is called: "It is what it is."

Question: What does he think about how the relationship between art and technology plays out here in Cuba?
Answer: It is a very complex relationship. Depends on creation needs, sometimes wider context. It's extremely expensive. It's not censorship by political will, but by price. Shipping and handling of works is facilitated by technology. To be able to make movies is difficult; but newer technologies are cheaper. Limitations exist here: Internet bandwidth (lack of) makes it challening. Everyone has Facebook; it's an interesting phenomenon. The Web provides helps guarantee an audience; artists are working on video games. Luckily, printing of information is decreasing. The catalogs you're looking at, that's a sentimental thing. More people are looking at more things online. This gets into social themes. Young movie producers organization - separate from here. Can see trends of young people from art schools and self-taught artists. There is a great deal of "cross-contamination." We have a young artist coming in here today, e.g. he was working with the theme of a virus that was creating an emptiness zone in PCs - in an art (not a malicious) context. Everything that works in Cuba - works on a PC. PC + Mac issue exists here. Everything in Europe is on Mac. They've had some issues with Microsoft, occasionally getting support is an issue. But, we do a lot on PCs.

Cuatro Esquinas/Market
We paid a visit to the Cuatro Esquinas (Four Corners) area where we were told Cubans purchase items for their religious offerings. We also visited a covered farmers market nearby, where fruit sellers and others hawked their wares.

Printing Workshop
After visiting the market, and before lunch, we visited a taller (or workshop) and gallery that featured works from many traditional printmaking artists. Coming from an area where many artists have gone digital, it was great to see print work being done with stones and machinery. This process also uses a fair amount of water, so if there are any shortages or disruptions in water supply, printing is stopped for the day.

Photography Gallery - Opening Reception for "Eros"
Attended a Gallery Opening ("Eros: Digital Impressions and Platinum Prints") photographs by an Italian photographer, Claudio Marinelli. In the adjoining courtyard, a peacock strutted and posed for pictures.

Los Nardos - a restaurant with good food and a unique and impressive wood/rancho decor in old Havana, located across from the old capitol building, which is now a museum.

Havana - September 2, 2010

ICAP; Scale Model; Foto Habana; Cathedral Plaza; etc.

Today we were up early for breakfast, then headed out on an Amistur bus (with guide Jesus) to attend several scheduled meetings.

The first stop was the ICAP friendship house -- a very grand house, in the Vedado area of Havana -- where we saw one of the first statues of Jose Marti, an early revolutionary hero who battled Spain, and who lived in the U.S. for a time.

One of the most interesting stops was at a large scale model of the City of Havana (Maqueta de Habana) and the Bay the city was built around. The model reminded me of the (San Francisco) Bay Model in Sausalito, California. The Havana model was built on a scale of 1:1000, and was color coded based on when in history various areas of the City had been developed.

While there we met with and listened to a presentation by architect and urban planner who discussed historical development patterns and growth factors, transportation, and many other interesting subjects that provided some helpful background on what we were seeing and photographing.

Later, after a meeting at Foto Habana (a lab and photography shop), and a tour of other parts of the City, we ate dinner at Restaurante El Patio, on the old Cathedral Square, where there was a belly dancing performance going on in the square.

Arrived in Havana, Cuba - Sept. 1, 2010

Orientation Meeting at the Hotel Plaza

Our group drove from the airport to check into the Hotel Plaza in downtown Havana, centrally located near many interesting spots, including: the Malecon (paved section/walkway along the water); parks; museums; old squares; etc. From the top floor of the hotel, after an orientation meeting and before dinner downstairs, we enjoyed the open air roof garden area, where there was a good view of the old Bacardi building (shown) across the street; and, looking down, we got our first glimpse of the many window and balcony scenes of Havana (also shown).

And, yes, on the drive in we caught sight of the old cars, the pedicabs, the people, the fading colors and textured walls, and many other interesting sights in the old Havana (Habana Vieja) area. I can remember not wanting to appear like a photo-taking locust. I can see why local residents laugh at tourists snapping away. There was much to see that was visually interesting.

Cancun to Cuba

Brief Stop in Cancun, Mexico

Most of our group converged in Cancun, Mexico, before taking a  flight to Havana, Cuba. There was just enough time for a trip to explore the Cancun area, and to check out a few chocolates native to Mexico, including some homemade hot chocolate.

Thank you to Bill for allowing me to join him on a run down to Tulum. Lots of interesting iguanas and lizards in the stone ruins there. It was a good warm up the camera day. Others checked out the beaches and hotel strip area in Cancun.