My Second Family

I think nothing is as inspiring for your creative development as a personal long term project. By working with one subject over time you get to know your subject in quite a different way and find new ways to express your vision. In addition when working with people – as I mostly do, you develop a relationship over time that is invaluable when it comes to access. People you photograph relax and are able to behave as themselves when they get to know you. It comes down to trust, interaction, understanding and eventually friendship. Part of the deal with a personal long term project is personal. By photographing – as it is in my case – without an editor telling me what he or she wants, by no restricting conditions, by having complete freedom, you are able to work from your heart and let your spirit in the moment bring you to new places which usually is not possible when for instance you are doing an assignment.

Since 1991 I have been visiting Cuba on a regular basis – mostly every year, although more like every second year the last couple of years. I have found my personal long term project in the agricultural area of Viñales in Western Cuba. There I have gotten to know a family who’s farm is overlooking a small lake and the so-called mogotes – limestone rocks – which are very characteristic for Viñales. The family farms the land and live a very simple life. They are poor, but are able to sustain themselves, and in many ways they are richer in spirit than many other people I know. I have seen people at the farm grow up, marry, get children – and die. They have become like a second family to me, and I am always welcome to stay at the farm at any time. I bring my camera and myself, and then just spend time with the family. And every year I bring photos from the previous year. They always cause laughter and enjoyment among the family members. Visiting the family in Viñales has been a great experience for me, both on a personal level as well as photographically. My personal long term project. This year I plan to go back in September – and I really look forward visiting my family again.

The last picture of this series is the first I ever took of any of the family members.

On a different note, I would like to apologise for not having been able to visit your blogs and comment any of your posts the last month or so. It’s just been a very busy time for me with a lot of travelling. All the more I appreciate your patience and willingness to comment my posts. I intend to catch up during the summer time, when work will cease to be as busy as it has been lately.

71 thoughts on “My Second Family

  1. What a wonderful story these photos tell. You can see in their eyes and smiles that you are family and they trust you. I don’t believe that is there in that first picture (the last one in the post). Thanks for sharing your other family with us.

  2. You transported all of us to Cuba, where we accepted these beautiful souls as family as well!
    I agree totally with your statement, ” …and in many ways they are richer in spirit than many other people I know..” – as Thoreau stated, “less is more.’
    Thank you for sharing! Z

  3. Michele LMS says it all. Wonderful photos and one can see how you feel about these people by the very depth you expose in their character.
    A very impressive series of photos indeed. These are the best images I’ve seen on your site since I started following your blog.

  4. As always very informing. I can’t agree more. Personal contact allows subjects to open up. Before you know it you have a relationship building.

  5. I always enjoy your posts and write-ups Otto but this one really is special. The images & portraits are outstanding and it’s very clear tha thtese individuals trust you and have opened up to you. Outstanding.

  6. Those are wonderful photos from our neighbor island. It’s sad to see how poor they are, but yes, they are happy with what they have.

  7. Your posts always inspire and teach, and this one illustrates your message without needing words. You’re fortunate that you’ve been able to go back to Cuba so often. My favorite of these photos is the horse leading the man through the river…

  8. These are good photos, it’s a pleasure to look at them. We can really see how you are deeply related top them. To have deep connections, deep relations is good specially in our today’s world. And yes, it’s the key to good photographs. Thanks for showing and reminding us.

  9. Beautiful photographs. The level of poverty is very sad. But if they are a close happy family then that makes things better. I have never any photos of Cuba other than the city so this was very interesting.

  10. Otto, your feelings and love for these people shines from your photographs of them. I can see they love you back.
    Very impressive.

  11. A beautiful and full of love post that shines through the photos and your words. Like they are your second family, you and other blog pals are like a second family as we share in each other’s journeys, dreams, heartaches and just about whatever comes up in our lives…
    Peace be with you, Otto. 🙂

  12. is not easy to get into these realities of life, but in this post shows the normal natural everyday situations of extraordinary people in their simplicity

  13. I had no idea you’d been traveling to Cuba for so many years, Otto. That is quite amazing to me. Sometime if it feels worth your time I’d love to hear more about what “called” you to that project in the first place. What was the inspiration? It must be a very beautiful country, and I’m so delighted to see photos of the wonderfully friendly people. As an American, I must say that I’m very bothered by our “position” on relationship with Cuba. We are nothing if not inconsistent! I’ll stay away from politics but say that somewhere in my lifetime I hope we open up and perhaps have the opporttunity to exchange with these lovely people. As for not keeping up with blogs…it’s seemed evident to me that you were traveling and up to your ears in creativity! 🙂 Debra

  14. Wonderful pictures of such a different world from the one I know. Thank you, Otto. On looking at the pictures, I wonder what these people’s day to day is like. What makes them happy? What do they do when the sun sets or on a Sunday morning? What music do they play and sing? Lots of questions.

  15. I am full of admiration for this lifetime “new family” project. One can clearly see in all these great photos, how much you mean to each other, you and your Cuban family.
    This is something we all should do in one form or another, when we travel and photograph.
    I will not forget these photos – nor your inspiration!
    (Incidentally, I was also in Cuba – and in Vinales – in 2004)

  16. These are absolutely stunning images my friend. Very good. The people just seem so alive. There is a reason why things are called the “trappings” of modern civility…

  17. I’m glad you are so busy. Make hay while the sun shines is what I like to say. When I first started to look at these photos what came to my mind was Wow So much Heart. I’m glad you have people even far away that you can say is a second family. Today I was wishing I had that feeling of a second family.
    Thank You for inspiring me to take more photos of people, it is definitetly out of my comfort zone. I recently took some pictures of Navar’s nephew. I was surprised at how tender the photos came out and how relaxed he was as I took the photos. His mother is a photographer so I think he is comfortable in front of the camera. I was surprised because I’m use to kids posing. It was a treat and a surprise that he was so relaxed and comfortable.

  18. Really appreciate this post and your wonderful images from this long term essay of your friends in Vinales! Keep up the great work! 🙂

  19. Great pictures and do not know why but somehow I felt emotional while reading this post. And please do not worry about visiting our blogs; we can understand. So concentrate on your work and enjoy year time over there. Lots of good wishes for you.

  20. What an wonderful series of images Otto.I really like the first one. They appear to be wonderful hard working people. Great post!

  21. The smiles of the three men really do set the tone for what comes next and I can see they are as happy to see you as you are to call them family! An absolutely stunning set not to mention a fascinating project to have over time! All best to you Otto, for work and for relaxation and of course a big thank you!

  22. I lovethe ight, color and intimacy of these photographs and realize what a fine photographer. you are with a humble heart. I smile for I know you are doing what you love. No need to answer,

  23. Superb photos of the people and life they live! What a treasure to have these experiences, close connections and trust with your second family.

  24. “over time you get to know your subject in quite a different way and find new ways to express your vision.” – there is nothing more exhilarating than working on the same subject and seeing it from different angles and perspectives. methinks that’s how an artisan eventually develops what you perhaps call vision or some long-term projection on how to approach his craft and works.

    wow! your pics are breathtaking and your second family – yes. they look like the hardworking, loving and generous bunch, from this end… agree – longer term connections work best. ^^

    thank you for this instructive post… btw, i hardly had the time to bloghop in the last one and a half months myself, sir. your posts give us enough clues about your sked, haha -busy. 🙂

  25. How exciting to be able to visit this country and take these pics. I love the processing of them, but their true value is in the history they convey. Thanks for sharing!!

  26. Nice to meet your second family. Every captured moment reflects a meaningful human interaction. Beautiful and moving images. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  27. I just admired the photographs so much and I totally can understand the warmth of the relationship that has developed between you and the lovely people!

    Keep it up friend!


  28. “I think nothing is as inspiring for your creative development as a personal long term project. By working with one subject over time you get to know your subject in quite a different way and find new ways to express your vision.”

    This is so right.

    To do this project, what did you do in order to achieve their trust in you? What hurdles did you overcome, and are there any that you didn’t?

    1. It wasn’t that hard. All it took was patience, trust and honesty. We have enjoyed each other’s company – and turned into friends. Of course I have always brought back pictures when I visit the family but that is secondary today.

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