A Family of Farmers







Last week I wrote about the new photo workshop I am teaching in Cuba in the autumn coming up. As a celebratory, little teaser for the workshop itself I thought I’ll show a handful of pictures from one of my longest running photo projects, which incidentally happens to take place in Cuba.

I travelled to Cuba first time in 1991 – after which I have returned for maybe a month every year over the first ten years or so. After the initial ten years or so I have ventured back to Cuba a little less often, maybe every second or third year. But I still enjoy every time I go to Cuba, it’s simply a marvellous place for a photographer. People are open; they like to play along and are generally very hospital. And then there are the colours of Cuba – vibrant, intense and saturated.

The project, which has been my longest running, is a story about a family of farmers living in the beautiful valley of Viñales. I first met Catarina and Miguel, the lovely old couple who were the heads of the family, in 1996. And since then I have follow the life on the farm – seen new members of the family come into being, and seen them pass away, such as Miguel in 2008. Miguel was very dear to me, always smiling and always welcoming me whenever I visited his farm. You see him in the first picture of this post. Catarina on the other hand is a little shyer, but equally friendly – and makes the best food in the valley. She is still alive, but unfortunately becoming quite feeble. Catarina is seen in the second picture. When I first visited Miguel and Catarina’s farm there was neither electricity nor running water, they were poor, but still happy and always positive. Today it’s their sons who have taken over the little farm. A new generation of farmers is now running the farm, situated beautifully on a brink of a lake overlooking the valley.

I still feel like coming to a second family when I visit them in Viñales – as I wrote in the post My Second Family two years ago. And even though the workshops later this year won’t go to Viñales, I hope to be able to spend some time with the family when I go back. The workshop by the way takes place from October 25th to November 2nd.

134 thoughts on “A Family of Farmers

  1. What a special place and people! I can see your connection with them in your photos, especially the first photo of Miguel is breathtaking. Thanks for sharing, greetings, Ron.

  2. How lovely you got to know this family and photograph them and their lives. I can’t wait until you go to Cuba so I can read all your posts.

  3. I would love to hear more about how you stumbled into the lives of this family in the first place. As a tourist with a camera, what brought you to there farm? How did the relationship evolve? Do you write to them in between visits?

    1. I was not really a tourist, but photographing around in the Valley of Viñales. I visited a lot of farms – just knocking on doors or walking out on the fields to meet people. That’s how I first met Miguel and Catarina. And since then our relationship has developed. Unfortunately there is no way to write to them, but I have a friend living in Havana, who visits them from time to time – and say hello.

  4. Wonderful photographs, Otto. I especially like the photograph next to the river. Miguel’s son? I wish I could attend.

  5. Amazing photos! I’m so impressed by the expression and emotion captured in these faces. And it seems you live a wonderful life traveling and giving workshops!

  6. These photographs show your mastery and how deeply you can connect with people, which I believe is the most important part of picture making process. Pictures of Miguel and his family depicts essence of Cuba. Well done sir, it’s a pleasure to read your blog and follow your work.

  7. My second family when i first moved to this province were farmers on a small farm and I found them resourceful, generous,humble and fun.Your photos display those qualities and give me good memories.

    1. Yes, I would believe it would be same gentle, humble and generous attitude among farmers on small farms all over the world. They have learned to respect Mother Nature and hard work. Thank you, Jane.

  8. I have always loved and admired your people photography all the more since that is not a strength of my own. Your images have a directness and a connection to their subjects that always touch my heart.

  9. Absolutely stunning photos Otto. Amazing light and beautifully rich colours. The quality of your work and that of Steve McCurry are inseparable.

  10. I have to agree with seabluelee that there’s a particular admiration for that ability to get such delightful people shots. Also a quality I lack, but can’t help admiring. I think of it as an ability to connect with folks through the camera. Whenever I’ve tried to photograph people, they end up looking stiff and uncomfortable.

  11. Quanto affetto traspare dalle tue parole caro Otto, è splendido come parli di questa famiglia e di come sei loro affezionato. Le foto poi parlano da sole, sono talmente belle che sembra di vederli mentre si muovono o mentre ti sorridono!!!
    Ciao, Patrizia

  12. How wonderful you have managed to forge a friendship and mutual respect for this family of farmers. As a photographer the connection with subjects normally lasts a few minutes, in your case many years. This is so inspiring.. I love the photos as well.
    Thank you for sharing them with us all !

  13. It is really a special thing when one’s relationship with a country is more than just as a visitor or a photographer. I believe it aids me to have adeeper and richer understanding and connection with peopke and place. Beautiful post Otto thank you Trees

  14. I have so admired your pictures of these people in the past Otto. These are superb additions to the project. The people in these pictures are very clearly very comfortable with you and your camera. This can only be achieved over time I’m sure. Your patience is paying huge dividends.

  15. Not only do you capture the people but you capture the landscape/environment as well-at the same time. Inspiring!

  16. For sure Otto you are very good when you have to connect with people, and you are an excellent photographer. Of course as we see in these photos the two things goes together and it is the key point in obtaining such a good result.

  17. These are beautiful photos; your respect and affection for the family really shines through.

  18. These photos are wonderful, Otto, I can see that you have made a personal connection with them.

  19. Great series of shots, and I hope you get to visit and shoot Viñales again. Perhaps the best joy a photographer & subject can have is finding (and giving) pieces of their hearts to each other. This clearly is the case here, the first two shots are tremendous and shows the spirit of the friendship and bond you have created. Well done, and I think you will again find peace and happiness on your next visit/workshop in Cuba.

    1. I believe I will. Particular when I go to Viñales will I find peace of mind. And of course the joy of seeing my «family» again. Thank you for the lovely words, Randall.

  20. What wonderful pictures. I love how they tell a story of their lives. It is amazing to me how your style can be so different from mine, and yet still so inspiring.

  21. A beautiful series of images, Otto. I remember that previous post well. I hope you get back see them this time, and that you’ll be bringing us back a new series of photographs from the visit.

  22. I didn’t know you’d been traveling and photographing in Cuba for so many years, Otto. I absolutely love the way you capture the kindness and warmth of these lovely people. I feel honored that you’ve introduced us to Catarina and Miguel. I know your workshop is going to be amazing! I really enjoyed learning more about your relationship to this colorful country. 🙂

  23. I like your straight forward approach Otto. The subjects very well know you are taking their photographs but there is not the slightest hint of discomfort on their faces. They look so relaxed and comfortable in your presence. That is not always easy to achieve. I love the lighting and composition too. Thanks for sharing, Otto.

  24. Underbara bilder i det vackraste ljus, färger och kompositioner från vardagen hos dina vänner. Tillit är den känsla som väcks hos mig och som alltid är det du gör genuint och äkta. Hoppas ni kan få mötas när du återvänder i Oktober.
    Bästa Hälsningar

    1. Jeg tror og at det er noe av min styrke – at jeg klarer å skape tillitt. Og det handler om – som du sier – å være genuin og ekte. Takk for flott ord, Monica.

  25. Fantastiska bilder från vardagslivet i Cuba, de utstrålar värme och äkthet…och så färgerna…och utstrålningen…ja, de är outstanding helt enkelt.
    Har aldrig varit där, tyvärr. Var på väg dit i mitten på 80-talet, från Bahamas…men jag kunde inte köpa returbiljett…
    Hoppas att dina workshops där i höst blir lika uppskattade som alla andra…ja, det är jag säker på att de blir…men det viktigaste är säkert mötet med “familjen” eller hur!?

    1. Både, ja og nei, jeg gleder meg veldig til å se igjen min “familie”, men det er også med stor gleder at jeg gir meg i kast med en ny workshop. Synd at du ikke fikk besøkt Cuba den gangen på vei fra Bahamas. Det var et helt annet Cuba enn det som du finner i dag. Men jeg håper fremdeles at det åpner seg en mulighet for deg en dag. Cuba tror jeg du ville oppleve som veldig spesielt.

  26. Beautiful, beautiful photos Otto. How wonderful to have a second family like them in your life. You captured them beautifully ! 🙂

  27. It’s wonderful when you catch us up on this family. We have come to know them through your pictures and I find myself wondering about them sometimes. They are very fortunate that you have documented so much of their lives, in the way you have, for future family members never to forget. They are almost as fortunate as you for be able to do it.

  28. Beautiful people! Your images really give me a sense of the warmth and inner beauty of these people. It’s been about 14 years since I’ve been to Cuba, I would love to travel back with camera in hand. At the time, I was not so into photography so sadly I don’t have many great images. Have a great night.

    1. Thank you Mark, may you have a great day yourself! And, yes. what a pity not to have pictures from Cuba 14 years ago. It’s quite different today, but still so interesting for any photographer. I hope you get to go back one day.

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