Ron Herman, Professor, Foothill College, was the driving force behind a September 2010 trip to Cuba, and two Cuba-related exhibits: 1.) "Postcards From California" (Havana), and 2.) the unique Cuba-themed group exhibit in the U.S. (with 18 U.S. exhibitors and 18 exhibitors from Cuba). We recently caught up with Ron for this brief question and answer session, before the Cuba show opened at Foothill College in November.
Question: How did you get interested in traveling to Cuba?
Ron H.: Like many, the mystique of Cuba has always intrigued me. Over the years, I've had numerous photographers request Cuba as one of the destinations for my travel tours. One of them was born in Cuba and left 50 years ago. She wanted to return to show her husband where she had grown up.
Right now, Cuba is at a transitional point, and I believe that the Cuba today will look and be very different from the Cuba tomorrow. So far various reasons, I decided that the timing was right to make this trip a reality.
Question: What did you do to prepare for your trip?
Ron H.: I researched anything and everything I could get my hands on related to Cuba, Cuban photography, or photographers who have photographed Cuba.
Question: Can you talk about a highlight of your trip to Cuba?
Ron H.: There were so many amazing experiences that it would be difficult for me to pinpoint just one experience as THE highlight. However, in general the exchanges with Cuban photographers had the greatest impact on me.
In all honesty though, the trip as a whole was one big highlight. I rarely have a desire to return to a travel destination because there are so many places and cultures I want to experience. However, Cuba is one place I would love to visit again. The country is so complex that I think it would take multiple trips to fully comprehend this island nation and its people.
Question: What did you see that amazed or surprised you when you were there?
Ron H.: I was most surprised with how many locals just invited me--a stranger-- into their home and offered me coffee or some friendly conversation. I was also amazed at the technology spectrum that exists there. A very small percentage of people have regular access to the Internet, while others are working with the latest software version the day it is released. Some photographers are shooting HDR and others are designing their own filters to be used with Photoshop. We saw both extremes on the technology continuum.
Question: How did you have the idea to have a joint exhibit with photographers from Cuba?
Ron H.: The joint exhibition just naturally evolved as I was putting the program together. It became just one component in the numerous activities that we participated in and shared with our Cuban counterparts, which also included a lecture and portfolio review session. These activities played a vital role in bringing our two photo communities together to share ideas and information. This joint exhibition is just another link in the chain connecting American and Cuban photographers, and I hope future collaborations will ensue.
Question: Was there a dominant style of photography in Cuba?Ron H.: The dominant style of photography that we saw in Cuba was documentary but there is a lot more going on than just that. We saw amazing conceptual work and work in various other genres that really blew us away. Photographers are predominantly self-taught in Cuba. There may be a workshop available here or there, but formal photography education as we know it, does not exist there. Most of the photographers were working digitally—and for some, it was because of the scarcity of darkroom materials.
Question: Do you have any advice to give to photographers about traveling to Cuba?Ron H.: Yes, you need to be flexible. Things don’t operate the same way as they do here. If you go expecting the unexpected, then you will enjoy Cuba immensely. I would recommend researching what has been done in photography of this location before. Then when you get there get the cliché shots out of the way so that you can begin to make images that reflect your unique way of seeing. If you have the luxury of time, get grounded in one location. Spend time and really get to know the environment and its people. This often results in a more personal approach to the subject. I would also recommend intentionally getting yourself lost. Most of the pictures I’ve made that I am most pleased with are ones that I have made when I was lost and my senses were heightened, forcing me to “find my way” through my lens.