August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
February 17, 2010 § 3 Comments
December 26, 2009, I had been in Havana for four days, wondering the streets, seeing my friends, and just celebrated Christmas with one of my cuban families. It was quite a different holiday celebration; relaxing, tranquil, and distant from the western consumerism that I am use to with its post holiday sales. My morning was spent drinking coffee and making breakfast for a whole family, a traditional, American Christmas breakfast, or at least a traditional, American Christmas breakfast residing within my childhood memories, yet, made with cuban ingredients.
When I first arrived, Billy had invited me, on Saturday, the day after Christmas, to his friends house, whose daughter was celebrating her birthday. I was reluctant to be a participatant or a photographer at this event, thinking to myself, “I want to relax, go to the beach, especially the day after Christmas, one of the days in the year that I can actually do so,” but explaining this to a cuban, didn’t make sense to him, few things western do, especially the mentality of wanting to rest the day after Christmas. A few days prior, Billy keeps reminding me to show up at his house, early Saturday morning, western time, not cuban time, as he sometimes stresses, and telling me that we need to leave by 9 AM. I show up at 10 AM, too lazy to crawl out of bed, I was worried that I was late. Once I arrive his house, Billy exclaims, “good morning my friend, coffee?” And I asked him if we still have time? He exclaimed, once more, “You’re right on time.” I felt dubiously tricked and outsmarted. We chatted for a bit, over coffee and a cuban breakfast of rice and black beans with a little bit of chicken.
He further commented that we have a long way to go, on the outskirts of Havana, in the province of Cotorro, Havana, and that we will be there most of the day. It was a part of Havana that I have never seen before, or even knew that it existed. I was intrigued by the houses and the people that were living there; so close to the main city of Havana Del Este, yet so far away at the same time. It would be a frustrating commute if you lived here, and had to commute into the city everyday; as buses are sporadic and as cuban taxis are expensive, and few and far between. We finally arrive to our destination, Billy finally explains that he wanted me to photograph a little girl’s birthday party; explaining how she has never had her portrait taken, and the family would be quite grateful if I would document this event for them.
It was a beautiful day, not a hot cuban summer day, but a mild, sometimes chilly, San Francisco fall day, with a slight cold breeze; it was a northerner from the intense winter North America was having, interrupting their normal tropical climate. I was introduced to Daniella, the birthday girl, excited about her day and her party that her parents arranged for her: complete with decorations, lunch, party favors, clowns, and a Pinata. The whole day, you could see in her eyes, her enthusiasm and her excitement.
In the bedroom, next to the living room, in front of the house, I heard a loud, constant moaning, not a person in anguish, or of a person in pain, but perhaps of loneliness. I inquired as to where the sound was coming from, and Daniella responded, “mi abuelo, Alberto.” Her father, introduced me to him, and I later asked, if I may photograph him. He asked his father, explaining who I was, and that I have traveled a long distance to be here. He agreed. Once I began to photograph, he stopped moaning, pausing to look at me from time to time. Unfortunately, I could sense he was near death, although he did not seem to be in too much pain. It was the same sensation I experienced as my grandmother moved closer and closer to her passing: in and out of consciousness, the moaning, as if she were remembering and longing for a time that existed in her youth, as my grandmother explained to me in between her moans. I felt uncomfortable at times, photographing him when he probably did not feel like himself, yet every time I moved out of the room, or away from his sight, away from his presence, he would begin to moan once more. I took this as a sign that he was comfortable with my presence, my camera, and that I was not interrupting his peace. This was later confirmed when his son and daughter-in-law moved him into the kitchen to have lunch. I raised my camera, and he moaned once more, nodding, back and forth, aware of my presence, and understanding how he did not want to be photographed.
Alberto Hernandez lived 86 years, living most of his life, in the Pinar Del Rio provence of Cuba. He passed away in late January of this year. And it was amazing to see how this family was celebrating life, by celebrating their daughter’s seventh birthday, and at the same time celebrating the life of Daniella’s grandfather.
November 15, 2009 § Leave a comment
Stumbling along the streets in Havana, carrying a 4×5 Speed Graphic on a tripod from one corner of their tightly, claustrophobic streets to the next, and blank stares of confusion. I was considered to be an oddity, transporting not only the camera, but all the miscellaneous photo-related equipment that is needed. I would often stop, set down the tripod placing it in front of the scene that I was only hoping to photograph, yet, to find, only moments later, my scene would not wait for me to be photographed. Often left in disappointment, moving on until another scene would unfold, setting my camera down once again, yet only to be disappointed once more. I would spend my days walking the streets, occasionally stopping to rest on the stoop of a step, looking at all the wonderful moments unfolding before my eyes, but discouraged by the speed of time these moments would unfold. After my rest, I once again gained consciousness to move forward looking for more scenes to possibly photograph. I walked by this complex of three boys playing-one boy was playing with a pair of homemade stilts made out of wood and rusty nails. I placed my tripod down once again, yet to be told they did not want their photograph to be taken. I packed up my equipment, yet again to walk in between the buildings that crumble and hold their breath, while looking for other moments to capture on film. Halfway down the block, the man-sitting in the top left corner of this image-with his broken english and my broken spanish, invited me back to photograph him, and the three boys. Elated, I jumped at the opportunity, holding back my enthusiasm, and setting down my tripod and camera once more. The three boys, including the one with stilts, were climbing up and down the stairs, and running around as if I weren’t there. The minute I was ready, the magic happened, all three boys and the man, who chased me halfway down the block, all sat down, without direction. I exposed two plates, before I realized all the other film holders I had pre-loaded for the day, have already been used. I then realized that these would be the only two exposures that I would be able to create of this moment. The first exposed plate went well with only a slight concern of the image being underexposed. The movement in this image, the second exposed plate, is a result from using a slow shutter speed, the people moving, and me bumping the camera. Once I processed the film and made my contact sheets, this image turned out to be the more interesting of the two. The rest of that evening was spent cooling off, and eating chinese in the Barrio de Chino District of Havana, before returning to my casa particular. On subsequent journeys, I have wondered the same streets looking for this complex, yet it seems to have vanished only to exist for this one moment, this one photograph.
November 7, 2009 § Leave a comment
My days of photographing had been long, walking the dusty, polluted streets with smells I couldn’t even recognize. Besides the heat and the sun beating down upon my soul, it was cooking all the left over items on the pavement. It had been days since I rested and experienced anything normal-a normal meal, a normal bottle of water, a normal bed. I had come down with another illness, nothing serious, but serious enough to wipe me out, and not having the motivation to photograph my normal scenes, avenues, or boulevards. My friend Arien even noticed I was different today, in the heat, not like times before. He suggested we rest that day, asking him where, he suggested the Hotel Riviera to relax by the pool; a large open space caught between a 1950’s postcard of the old Las Vegas strip, juxtaposed to 1970’s or 80’s Soviet architecture, and the Caribbean Sea on the other side. Drifting in and out of delirium, I was often confused by my surroundings, and kept asking Arien where we were. Maybe it was the heat, maybe the water I drank, or maybe the Soviet architecture; perhaps the combination of these things. After napping, and few dips in the pool, I came to senses once again, and able to photograph. This is one of a few images created that day. A peaceful, restful day, an oases of sorts, away from the garbage baking on the streets, and the roasting of unidentifiable odors.