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.