Monday, July 10, 2017

The Elder

I have spent time the last four days working on a black & white edition of my photographs from Cuba. What I especially like is that the eyes speak more than in the color images. I will soon create a gallery for and hopefully a book. Below are four pictures of "The Elder," one of the women I met at a tobacco farm outside of Vinales. She couldn't talk or hear and at one point when a younger worker was preening for some of my fellow photographers, she rolled her eyes and gave the cuckoo sign with her finger.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Eighth of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

The theme here is friends. Two individuals in each photograph who appear to know each other—to spend time together.

Photograph VX – Best Friends

I took this as the sun went down my first night in Havana. I was on a narrow street, the same road where I photographed the grandmother in an earlier post. I took a half dozen photographs of these boys but this is my favorite—the way they touched. The background is perfect but also sad—the deterioration.

Photograph VXI – Morning Coffee at Plaza de Armas

I liked the composition. Both me worked at the Plaza. The garbage container on the right matches the bag held by the man on the left. This shot was taken first thing in the morning I saw them together throughout the day.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Seventh of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

People shopping versus people sitting on the bench at La Placita—no need for further explanation of color v black & white or Cuba v Puerto Rico.

Photograph XIII – Shopping

I loved this corner and spent time watching people walk through. Must have shot a dozen pics but this one had everything I wanted. All three people’s eyes spoke to me. I loved the woman coming up the street with other people and the shops behind her. Finally, the blue wall and red car filled the frame perfectly. I wouldn’t dare to explain what the eight eyes are saying—I love that they’re looking right at me as I shoot.

Photograph XVI – Lottery Ticket Seller & Friend

I saw these people every day for a week. She shrugged when I gave her this pic but she looked right at me every time I shot. He talked to me, was sweet, and always had his bottle. Am thinking of a series just on him as I must have 25 images.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sixth of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

I placed these photographs together for three reasons—age, posture, and texture.

Photograph XI – On the Bench at La Placita

I took five or six photographs of this man sitting outside of La Placita. First, it was his eyes staring back at me—strong. I also noticed the key around his neck, something that many of the people I photographed at the market wore. It’s significant because it represents people coming from their homes to spend days in public places, Public Living Rooms.

Photograph XII – Abuelo Early Evening in Havana Viejo

The light was perfect and this diminutive woman had eyes that spoke. Like many of her neighbors, she sat on the stoep avoiding the heat and living in public. After leaving Cuba I revisited Peter Turnley, my teacher’s, book on Cuba. He had taken a photograph of the same woman – I hadn’t remembered it and he never mentioned it?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Fifth of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

Photographs IX & X in the exhibit are both from Cuba. I did this because of the location in the Beaverton City Library where they hang – behind a desk at the entrance where black and white prints are hard to see.

Photograph IX – Elder at the Tobacco Farm, Vinales

I immediately wanted to take a picture that focused on her face but also caught the colors and texture of her jacket. The lines in the field frame her and that’s important to the photograph. This woman could neither speak nor hear. Just after taking the photo, she twirled her finger at the side of her head referring to one of her fellow workers who was working the crowd of photographers.

Photograph X -- Drummer, Havana

We were at a Plaza listening to music, watching dancers, surrounded by many children. I sat on a wall patiently and this photograph was the outcome. I had been watching the drummer and wanted to take his portrait. When the woman wearing American flag pants came in the frame, I knew I had the pic I wanted. Parenthetically, American flag clothing was not unusual.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fourth of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

As I set-up the show I thought that the photographs of these two women went together perfectly. They are similarly positioned and while the expressions differ, they both show pain or at least life’s struggles.

Photograph VII – Woman & Umbrella at Plaza de Armas

While it was again her eyes that first struck me, seeing her umbrella in the frame completed this picture. Actually, she forgot her umbrella and I ran after her to return it. Her eyes were so intense, penetrating. For me, she exuded pain – physical, economic, everything. Who Knows?

Photograph VIII – Tobacco Field Outside of Vinales

She was the crew leader and mostly I saw strength when I took her picture. The tobacco & lake frame her beautifully, but for me she is still the photo.  The mud on her fingers, her strong face, and as a lagniappe her light, green hair all speak to me. She spends her day picking tobacco but her hair shows her style – an example of seeing more joy amidst hard lives in Cuba.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Third of Ten - Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

Photographs 5 & 6 are also close-up portraits. In both cases, I had been shooting horizontally almost exclusively. I had taken many photographs of both individuals, but in both cases, the vertical portrait was the strongest image.

Photograph V

I was on a day trip shooting with seven other photographers attending Peter Turnley’s Cuba workshop. We had made various stops and this photograph was taken at a tobacco and coffee plantation in outside of Vinales. I was very patient taking dozens of shots of this man. I had watched his friend roll cigars and we all feasted on fresh fruit and cigars. In fact, I ended up buying both cigars and very rich coffee beans in between taking pictures. For me, he was universal in terms of tobacco workers as partially evident by the cigar, but totally individual as his eyes speak and combine with the cigar and his hat to make this the strongest photograph I took at this site.

Photograph VI

I took this picture and others in the exhibit at La Placita in San Juan. I spent many hours with my camera sitting across from the concrete benches that border the inside market. Just as in the prior photograph, almost all of my bench pics were horizontal, but not this one. First, I wanted to photograph her alone – not with the many others who sat outside La Placita. Her stare was so powerful, and combined with her clothe and flip-flops, I felt her strength, her richness and was honored to take her picture.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Second of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

I had the privilege of attending three workshops between April 2016 and March 2017. Each of the individuals that led the workshops were world famous (of course that means that people not acquainted with photography have never heard of of them). Each class changed me as a photographer. Even though the two pics featured in this essay were from the second and third workshops, they connect more to the first class I attended with Magnum Agency photographer, Bruce Gilden. He shoots close-up on the street with a flash and his photographs are always vertical. When I took his workshop I too shot vertically asking people if I could take their portrait, photo, picture. Most said yes, some said no, but I was pretty good and believe(ed) the story was/is in the individual’s eyes. After working with Bruce, I moved even closer to the people I photographed. He taught me to be more square. He didn’t have to teach me to speak with the folks I shot. I always looked people straight in the eye through my camera – very evident in these pics.

Photograph III – Woman at the Plaza de Armas, San Juan

One of the things that I learned from David Alan Harvey in Puerto Rico was patience. He taught me to stop searching for the picture, but rather to learn to see it. To stay in one setting and work the place. This photograph is an example of watching and waiting. The woman photographed, for me, represents both hard life and strength. Her eyes, her stature, her wrinkles, and her bling portray her being. She had been sitting with another woman but the various photographs I took didn’t have the same power, at least not for me. When her friend left, I shot again and again. This is the photograph I wanted with the background blurred so that it is totally her.

Photograph IV – Young Boxer, Havana

I must say that this is one of my all-time favorite portraits – mostly because of the young boxer’s eyes, hair, and stare, but also because of the contrast with the background. This is to say nothing of the conversations we had as I photographed. I should note, however, that I took this photograph during a workshop with Peter Turnley, whose teaching showed me the importance of shooting horizontally – to catch the entire context of the scene that you photograph. This pic as well as Photograph V, which will appear in the next blog, were the rare vertical shots that I took while I studied with Peter. Back to the conversation: I told the young boxer that he had hair like a player on the Cleveland Cavaliers. He then answered that he knew that but that he didn’t know the man’s name. I told him that it was Iman Shumpert and he sort of waived me off and walked me out of the gym. He then pointed down the street to a small bar where he watched the 2016 NBA Finals. Finally, he concluded the conversation telling me that he loved LeBron James. All of this in a Havana boxing gym.

Monday, May 29, 2017

First of Ten -- Thoughts on My Photographs in Separate Wings of the Same Bird

Yesterday I had the privilege of showing friends from Vermont my photography exhibit, “Separate Wings of the Same Bird – Photographs from Cuba & Puerto Rico.” Afterwards, I concluded that talking or writing about my pics enhances the stories that the they tell. Yes, I know that photographs can stand on their own. I also understand, however, that words do not detract from individual prints, and clearly enrich the story(s) multiple images tell.

This essay is the first of ten that connect to the 20 photographs in my current exhibition. Photographs are paired and each set includes a color image from Cuba and a black & white one from Puerto Rico – I saw Cuba in color but Puerto Rico in black & white. In both places I met people who were struggling to make ends meet. But there appeared to be greater joy amongst people in Cuba. I’m very clear that this call is purely subjective. However, the stories of each photograph might help to explain my idea.

Photograph I – Mother & Daughter, Havana

This picture was taken late afternoon outside of a Catholic church. The Archbishop of Havana had said mass and I had spent the afternoon shooting inside of the church as well as in the adjoining neighborhood. As an aside, although it was a Catholic church, many people attending were believers in Santeria. I photographed mother and daughter as they stood facing the church and the steps where I was sitting viewing the street. I had already spotted the two men standing across the street. The mother and daughter had begun some serious scolding of the daughter’s sibling – one of the mother’s other daughters. There were so many elements that I saw in the frame, but for me the focal points were the women’s faces. Mother looks very troubled while daughter appears awfully judgmental. So, while it was the faces that were the stories – at least for me, each woman’s bling and the daughter’s dress began to make the photograph more complete. Finally, the background and the sky brought closure to the frame.

Photograph II – Santeria Elder, Santurce neighborhood in San Juan

I took this photograph at La Placita in Santurce. During the day, La Placita is a food market but at night it turns into a much more youthful scene – the site of music and dance till late into the night. The two men in the pic had just finished eating at a small restaurant that adjoins La Placita. Before they got into the car I chatted with the man who is in the back seat, the well-known artist Eli Barreto Talavera. He then introduced me to the man in the front seat whose necklace is a Santeria amulet. The elder man thanked me profusely for taking his photograph and I helped him get into the passenger seat of the car. As I began to say good-bye, I had to shoot the portrait knowing that Eli would also be part of the photograph. The car framed the shot, I thought that his hand offered rich texture, and most importantly, his beautiful eyes spoke the many thankyous that he had already spoken.

(Photographs are on exhibit through June at the Beaverton City Library. I will talk about the show on June 15/6pm at the library)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chess at Director's Park

These photographs are part of my Portland Public Living Rooms project. Sunny Sunday afternoon at Director's Park downtown.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Public Living Rooms - Portland March/April 2017

Making photographs for "Public Living Rooms" in Portland is very different, at least so far, than those in San Juan. I've been shooting around downtown with focus at the Central Library. Unlike San Juan, most of the people I meet are homeless. Their schedules revolve around various church meals and many are very much alone. Many other people have their communities and spend time together near the library or in the park blocks nearby. Sometimes the conversations revolve around Bob playing guitar and singing Bob Dylan tunes in front of the library. Other groups meet around the corner -- sometimes the encounters are warm, but other times not so much.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Separate Wings of the Same Bird

May 2, 2017 – June 30, 2017

Beaverton Public Library
12375 SW 5th St.
Beaverton, Oregon

Artists Talk – June 15, 2017, 7pm

Many, many years ago Lola Rodriguez wrote “Two Wings of the Same Bird”:

Cuba y Puerto Rico son                                                          Cuba and Puerto Rico are
de un pájaro las dos alas,                                                      
As two wings of the same bird,
reciben flores o balas                                                             
They receive flowers and bullets
sobre el mismo corazón
...                                                      Into the same heart ...

Rodriguez grew up in Puerto Rico but lived part of her life in Cuba. I was privileged to photograph in both countries this past year. While they have parallel histories and there continues to be mutual individual admiration, the countries paths separated in 1959. And today the countries are Separate Wings of the Same Bird. For me, Cuba lives in color and Puerto Rico in black & white – thus street life differs, both in photographs and in spirit.