Cuban Diary

When I go to Cuba I have made myself a special project. I am doing a visual diary. As mentioned in posts before, I have Cuba as a long term personal project, going there since 1991 most every year. The visual diary I started in 2000. As I am always looking for new ways to approach photography and express my vision – and most of all develop my photographic vision, I try different ways to force myself to go outside of the box, or push myself out of the comfort zone. The Cuba diary is one of those projects that does exactly that.

For this project I have given myself a very limited set of rules I need to comply with. First of all the pictures are shot with an analogue point-and-shoot camera. The reason for me to use film is that I don’t want to give myself the comfort of being able to check the result during the shooting process, as is one of the advantages with digital capture. In addition film has a different quality than digital imagery, and I want to have this old fashion feel to the result. Furthermore I can only take one – 1 – picture a day. No alternative exposures, no changing of the set ups or any back ups at all. It will all have to be there in that first frame. One frame per day while I am in Cuba.

That’s the physical limitations of the project. The pictures themselves are meant to capture my daily life while travelling in Cuba. So it’s really like a personal diary. A project about my own relationship with Cuba and les about Cuba in itself. The one picture a day is supposed to capture the essence of that day in some way or form. Because I am only allowed to shoot one picture each day, I am constantly on alert – whether this very moment is today’s picture or if I should wait for something better later on and then risk having to shoot something worse in the end. It’s quite a mental exercise, and some days actually quite stressful. Part of the deal is that I need to shoot something I don’t usually shoot, or do it in a way I don’t usually do. So it’s all a big experiment on my part, constantly challenging myself.

The pictures here are my visual diary from the latest trip to Cuba a month and a half ago. So instead of posting my «normal» pictures from this trip, I’ll show this special project instead. Because of its limitation and the restrictions I give myself, it’s given that every occation is not going to produce a strong picture. The point for me is really to use this project to push myself, as mentioned before, and that’s why I am showing it here. Maybe by showing it here, it can throw up in the air some ideas for others to pursue.


123 thoughts on “Cuban Diary

  1. You say, “Maybe by showing it here, it can throw up in the air some ideas for others to pursue.”
    You always throw up in the air ideas that make me think. Your photos are as creative as your ideas! I don’t know that I have that kind of patience and restraint. Thanks for sharing these personal dairy shots of yours. I find myself lingering, imagining, in the people shots. My fav – the man with lots of body hair! I feel like a voyeur getting a birds eye view into Otto’s character AND sense of humor. Thank you my mentor from afar.

  2. Are you only shooting one pic a day, or just choosing one a day for your project? 🙂 Just shooting one a day would be really tough! Cuba seems like a place I would want to snap away all day long. Great photos – love the last two.

    1. For this project I only shoot one picture a day. But of course I work on other projects at the same time, but with my digital cameras, like the farm in Viñales I have written about before.

  3. Så spennende, annerledes og interessant dagbok! Jeg liker denne ideen! Litt av en utfordring det må være!
    En flott serie bilder du deler med oss, spesielt liker jeg bildene fra 1. 3. 9. og 10. oktober! Jeg har ikke vært så begeistret for svarthvitt bilder, men liker det mer og mer ; )

    God tirsdag til deg! ; )

  4. What a fascinating project, Otto – I imagine there must’ve been hundreds of photo opportunities tempting you to click that shutter release. Your images all have such a distinctive, unusual quality to them, it’s difficult to choose a favourite! Why did you decide to shoot in black-and-white film, by the way? Was that an additional limitation you imposed to make you think more about light and shadow?

    1. I chose B&W because it helps bring about some of that 60’s feeling that is Cuba. Besides I do generally like the quality of black and white. Also I have to «admit» I don’t shoot traditional B&W film, I use Ilford XP-2, a monochromatic film which is develop in the negative colour process C-41.

  5. Otto, these photos seem so personal and I feel each one has a story to tell. I want to go back and look in every nook and cranny to find out more.
    This is a wonderful project and I love the challenge you set for yourself. Only one photo per day and no delete button! It is back to old school to create “the” shot instead quickly popping off multitudes an hoping there is a good one in the bunch. I think this would make a good book. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks for the lovely feedback, Michelle. I am glad you see it as a personal piece of work, because that’s really what I try to do. And maybe one day the project will become a book…

  6. I love this project, Otto! And that you are using film…I need to get back to my Hasselblad medium format with film and this is some great inspiration. My favorite here is the 6th of October. The wide angle is so effective here. I would love it if you would write a post about using wide angle to shoot people….it’s so daring and yes pushing outside the box…for me at least….:)

    1. It’s a good idea to write about photographing people with wide angle lenses, because that’s really what I like to do the most. I will get back to it another day. Thanks for the feedback, Meryl.

  7. There’s something about the “softness” of film that invites the viewer to approach it, even to enter the scene. I’ve always felt that hyper-sharp reality distances the viewer’s relationship to the picture (same goes for movie film versus video). I’m also a big fan of monochrome, so these photos really appeal to me!

    1. I do like the special appearance of film, too. But I have to add that in these pictures I have added softness by a blend layer in PhotoShop. Thanks for the comment, Alli.

  8. Excellent shots Mr… Definitely throws out ideas. Maybe one day, I’ll finally get that camera I’ve been wishing for, and attempt to be this creative 🙂

    1. Any camera will do! Do not let the camera be a limitation. As I mentioned in the post these pictures were taken with a point-and-shoot camera. And many photographer make beautiful pictures with their iPhones or similar. So just get out there and be creative!

  9. wow! lovely series, sir Otto… i love the angles of your pics and the fine resolution…

    your project has started more than 20 years ago? that’s an even bigger wow. you could probably put it in a book later. i hope you will… warm regards 🙂

  10. What a fabulous project Otto and thank you so much for the preview of these wonderful shots which really do “stamp” a moment in your day. I love the sense of freedom I feel in these shots.

  11. I admire the discipline and restrictions you’ve placed upon yourself, Otto…inspiring intention and growth. I enjoyed the photos, too…that daily life in a world not our own….

  12. this is fascinating! the restrictions or limitations you put on yourself add a very interesting dimension or layer to each photo along with the film effect. they look like they were taken in the 60’s and Cuba looks stuck in that time warp as well, very well suited to the subject and creates an intriguing aura. One photo a day that I could not check would push me over the edge I fear, you have tremendous self discipline Otto!

  13. It’s a great project, Otto. I like the idea behind it a lot. I realize it is not a easy task to summarize the whole day with a single click. But I also feel as you are at it since a long time, so now you must have developed that instinct in you to choose where and at what time to click that picture and I believe it must have helped you a lot in terms of growing that creative person in you. You always try different things and share them where to inspire us in trying out different things and challenging ourselves. That’s why I respect you a lot.

    1. I do think it helps to have years of experience behind me i this exercise. And yes, I like to try to push the boundaries. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Arindam.

  14. Terrific project! I admire your discipline, it must be hard to stay inside your limits! But limits help in creating a special vision. I like the first pictures, from the car. Really a sense of traveling, a good aperture for this diary. And the swimming pool with that special sky is great as well. And…hmm, they are all great!

  15. What an inspiring and clever idea! My favourite lesson from your post is this one:

    ” … my own relationship with Cuba and less about Cuba in itself.”

    I’ve been writing in journals AND taking photos like a mad woman since … since I could write and take photos! This is quite overwhelming at times, but perhaps I can exercise this challenge the next time I travel! It’s a real challenge because I want BOTH!

    When traveling I want to soak in the culture and capture every image of what makes a country so special and unique. But at the same time, I also want to remember those defining moments that show how I “relate” to that country!

    P.S. Film is a great idea! I once “accidentally” deleted ALL my photos from Asilah – my favourite city in Morocco! With just a click of a button! That feature “Delete All” should be banned from touch-screen cameras!

    1. Isn’t it nice when you can soak in the culture when you are travelling? I am not sure if it’s possible to capture every image – at least I have become much more relaxed with regards to this, and only go for the pictures that touches me, somehow. Maybe that’s why I am able to do a project like the Cuban Diary? Yes, accidentally deleting all pictures is a devastating experience…

  16. I love this whole challenge that you put yourself through. What a way to truly make yourself conscious every moment as you don’t want to miss that one special moment of the day you want to capture. Only one photo wow. Funny when I use my digital and take many photos of the same shot 95% percent of the time, the 1st photo is always the best. I love your color choice and hazy look to your photo is does add to the Cuban flare of them.

    1. I like the way you see, that this way of shooting makes me more conscious of every moment, which I believe is really try. Thank you for the comment, Carrie.

  17. I like your project idea (and the resulting photos) very much. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much more careful I used to be when I had only a limited number of frames in my camera. And I usually shot slides, so no darkroom manipulation (i.e., post-processing) was possible. Interestingly, as Carrie commented, when I shoot several pics of the same subject with my digital camera I usually like the first one best!

    1. I definitely think the fact that we have almost unlimited amounts of frames available when shooting digital makes us approach photography in a different way. As for the first picture, sometimes that’s the case for me, too, but at other times the best comes towards the end of a shoot.

  18. This is a beautiful diary! I am in awe of the restrictions you’ve placed upon yourself. I think you don’t see them as restrictions, though, as much as a way to open up to the experiences and not merely to be a distant observer. You aren’t behind the camera nearly as much as you are using your other senses to take it all in! That’s takes tremendous discipline to not rely on the ease of digital editing! I was going to try to comment on what I chose as a favorite, but I can’t. Each one is special.

    1. I think you are right, I am using much more of all of me in this way of shooting, and thus are more susceptible to what’s going on around me. Thanks for a great comment, Debra.

  19. Keep inspiring me! I like the B/W, the fact you took photos using film which forces you to pay attention to detail and one shot-oh boy, I would be worrying if I “missed” the moment.Maybe a good exercise to learn to not take myself so seriously. Excellent project! Photographer Darwin Wiggett just finished a series where he “restricted ” himself to using only one lens, a 50mm. You can see it on

    1. Just to put the whole diary project in perspective; it’s not the only thing I shoot when I am in Cuba. I still work on other projects at the same time and thus won’t necessarily miss other opportunities completely. Thanks for the link to Darwin Wiggett, I will check out his web/blog.

  20. A very captivating diary with special moments. I love the way you have described it, your relationship with Cuba. Because it’s only one moment for each day, that makes it all the more special. Together they make for such lovely memories, each narrating a story of it’s own. A real beautiful form of expression. 🙂

  21. Once again, I learned something new and amazing from you. A visual diary is a brilliant idea to keep forever in memory the stories of our travels and journey. Photos are powerful tools to take us back to those amazing places and events. Happy Thanksgiving.

  22. This visual diary is poignant and striking. The use of monochrome adds drama and deeper substance to your daily story. Recently, I began to use my old Polaroid that produces a similar feeling. I’m sticking with black-and-white film, which is made by the Impossible Project. As always you bring another way to see the world that we inhabit.

  23. For someone who is not a photographer, the fact that your blog keeps drawing me here is only because of the creativity of your projects, your posts. When you set yourself such targets and restrictions and come up with such great shots, it reads more like poetry than a photo blog. I loved the sleeping dog in the 5th frame and the 9th one for that lovely smile. The ramshackle building symbolises Cuba, I am sure.

  24. Each shot is so different and I love the black and white, old world feel. Terrific idea.
    ¸.•*¨*•.♪♫♫♪Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you! .♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♥

  25. I don’t know anything about the technical aspects, but I find the b&w series really interesting. Loved the antique look. Oct 7’s pic – the building resembles the traditional buildings here in Jeddah. Must be quite an interest tour.

  26. I like the disciplined approach that you have adopted for this study and the results are so full of character. The quality of the images is also so good, particularly as you must have scanned them for publications. What scanner are you using, Otto?

  27. What a fabulous and interesting series – you have a wonderful eye for great compositions and beautiful lighting. Being able to take only one photograph a day must be incredibly difficult. However you’ve captured great moments and wonderful atmospheres. Every image tells a story. Many compliments!

  28. Whew, that’s a lot of restrictions. My favorites are black and white only and one shot a day. When we think of cuba we think of color and music. I do anyway. To take that away you are getting down to the bare bones of the photograph. – the essence of what you want to say. No crutches here. Thank you, Otto.

  29. I love your visual diary and the selection of frame you chose to feature them…what a blessing to be able to live, even for a brief time, and interact with folks from the mysterious place on the map, Cuba. It seems the only thing I know is Fidel and Cuban cigars. haha…anyway, I enjoyed your tour. Thank you! 🙂

  30. Love this visual diary Otto. You’ve answered all my questions I can just add that I also love the b/w photos.
    I can see that you didn’t just point and shoot without thinking and planning how to approach the shot because each photo has a story to tell. I’d love to know something about each one of the photos. For example:
    – 4th October: the hand is blocking what’s happening…
    – 6th October: why did you photograph it from the distance of the empty table?
    – 8th October: why are areas of the garden fenced off like that?

  31. What a great project, thanks for sharing your ideas and the resultant photos. I love the tone & feel of these analogue B & W’s, hard to believe it’s a point & shoot. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

  32. I love your images of Cuba (and your blog in general). I’m going next year for the first time. Would love to get any recommendations you’d care to offer regarding places to shoot.

    Thanks for considering,
    RPRT Photo

  33. You were amazingly brave to restrict yourself to only one photo a day in a faraway location that you only visit once a year. I can see how it would step up the challenge and create excitement for a veteran photographer. I would never be able to be so disciplined if I loved the country as you do. It would be interesting to know the backstory on each photo knowing it was such a meaningful moment for you. My favorite by the way is Oct 9th.

    1. Thank you for the encouraging feedback. Just to make myself clear, this diary is only one of the projects I shoot while in Cuba – and for this project, yes, I only allow myself to shoot one picture a day. But of course I do other projects, too, while in Cuba, so I do shoot more than this one picture a day. As for the backstory of each photo, I have deliberately not included any captions, because I would like viewers to read in whatever they see in each picture themselves.

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