¡Cuba Libre!

As a continuation of my post from Cuba last week, I want to continue showing a handful of other images I took during the photo workshop we, my colleague and I, taught earlier in May this year. As I wrote in my last Cuba-post, it’s only now that I have finally gotten around to edit and process the photos from the trip.

Some of the photos I show were captured during the actually workshop while others were taken beforehand. When I teach a workshop, I don’t always get much time to shoot my own photos. My time is dedicated to the workshop participants, either being out shooting with them or lecturing or doing picture critique.

Attending my workshop is always an intense experience, but not the least great fun. I think that’s fair to say. Participants univocally give our workshops the highest rating.

If you are interesting in attending one of our workshops in Cuba, we have just announced next year’s one week photo workshop in Cuba, similar to the one we taught this year and many years before. Follow the link to find more information about Street Photography in Cuba. If you are up for something very special, this autumn my colleague and I are organizing a two week photo tour/workshop in which in follow the footsteps of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s revolution. This is the link for In the Footsteps of a Revolution.

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Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

My Cuban Family

In May, I taught another of the photo workshops in Cuba, which I do together with my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann. Before the workshop commenced we took a trip to the valley of Viñales in the western part of the country. There we visit the family of farmers I have followed for more than 20 years—and whom I have photographed ever since, as some of you who follow my blog already know.

First recently have I been able to edit and process the photos from the trip. It’s just been too busy ever since—and then the summer holiday in there as well.

The family of farmers has become my own second family in Cuba. I don’t often have as much time to spend with them as I would like. But no matter how short the visit, I am always feeling at home and welcomed by all the family members.

Today it’s two brothers and a sister who runs the farm, the children of the couple I started to follow first in the 90’s. Both parents are dead now, so the siblings have taken over, and the next generation is about to grow up as well.

The family doesn’t have much, but lives off the land that they own, where they cultivate boniatos, yuccas, potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco, to only mention a little of their crops. In addition, they have a small livestock of cows, some pigs and lots of chicken and a couple of horses.

It’s always a great joy to visit my family. It’s such a peaceful land, albeit also demanding. Their livelihood is full of hardship, but they nevertheless always have time to greet me and make me feel at home. They may not have much, but they always makes sure I can’t get away without eating with them and enjoy evenings around the farm.

These are a few of the photos from this latest trip of mine.

A Spiritual Place

I have been neglecting my blog the last week or so, as some of you who are my regular readers may have noticed. It’s just not always possible to keep up posting at least once a week as I have set as a goal for myself. This time I was away for a short holiday in Barcelona with my two boys (who of course aren’t boys any more) .

The week in Barcelona was a much-needed respite from a very busy half-year. It was great to have nothing scheduled and just be able to enjoy a simple life of only having to find a place to eat or drink, or maybe which place to visit next.

If you haven’t been to Barcelona, it’s a beautiful city, bustling with life, history, culture, amazing architecture and yes, plenty of tourists. It’s absolutely no problem to spend a week in the capital of Catalonia, this proud and autonomic region in Spain.

Barcelona has plenty to offer, but if there is one attraction I would emphasize it’s La Sagrada Familia—The Holy Family—the extraordinary church designed by the city’s famous son, Antoni Guadí. La Sagrada Familia is his masterpiece at the end of his life. He took over as chief architect in 1889 and kept working on the project till his death in 1926.

Despite still under construction more than 135 years after the work was initiated, it’s one of the most special churches in the world, very distinctively a Guadí design. I am not particularly religious, but I could nevertheless feel the impact of the spiritual and sacred and inspired atmosphere in La Sagrada Familia. First time I visit Guadí’s masterpiece was in 1989, and now almost 30 years later it’s getting very close to completion.

What can I say; except that Gaudí was extremely creative—thus an inspiration for all of us who have embarked on a creative endeavour.

Learning to Live (with a Camera)

It’s always fun to observe participants attending our photo workshops in Cuba; In the beginning they are all quite amazed—and for the most part surprised—about how easy it is to photograph Cubans. This is whether they are being photographed on the street or elsewhere. Not the least are the participants astounded about how easy it is to even get invited inside Cuban homes and be able to photograph their intimate and private life.

For most of us, it’s quite intimidating to approach strangers on the street with the intention to photograph them. Of course, if you have never done it before, it’s almost nerve wrecking in the beginning, but also for seasoned photographers it can sometimes take some extra courage to face some stranger on the street.

The ease with which Cubans open up themselves for strangers is one of the reasons why Cuba is one of the better places in the world to practice street photography. During our workshops, we more than once experience the joy with which participants discover they can do something they never thought would be possible. As each day goes, they approach strangers more confidently and even carelessly. Towards the end of the workshop, they don’t even think about it any more. We have had participants crying in the beginning of a workshop because they couldn’t manage to face strangers on the street—or so they though—only to lose them at sight later on, whenever they ventured deeper and deeper into homes and places that no one else would think about going.

So it was with this workshop in May, too. We saw it once again, the anxiety of having to get close on the street shifting to excitement in the meeting with complete strangers and in getting to know them through the process of photographing them. As the week pass, we—my colleague and friend, Sven, and I—push them to go closer and closer and even closer.

When participants start to play along with Cuban music or dancing on the street, we are far beyond the pure photographic experience. We talk about life in all its beauty and richness.

Pushing participants closer and closer is one think that we always need to do, Sven and I, in any workshop we teach. As we say, you can never get too close. In a street photography workshop, this is definitely one of our major missions. And then to push the participants to keep shooting, and the shoot some more. We see it time and again; most untrained photographers may capture one, two or at most five images of a scene or a situation. This is hardly getting started! Whenever we are out on the street with the participants, we have to keep forcing them to stay with a situation, almost to exhaustion, to make sure they capture enough frames. You simple don’t know when the best image will appear.

Get closer. Shoot a lot. And finally: don’t look at the camera’s preview screen. That’s the last of our three commandments for participants during a workshop. Too often, photographers need to check what they have captured all while the situation continues—and they lose maybe the best shot. All this is about being prepared, getting the most out of a given situation and make sure not lose “the” photo.

In the late autumn—in November-December—Sven and I will organize a new workshop in Cuba. This will be quite a different experience. We will travel all over Cuba for two weeks, following the footsteps of Fidel and Che’s revolution.

Back from Cuba

I have just rounded up my latest workshop in Cuba. As always, it was great fun, both for the participants and me. Cuba is maybe one of the best and easiest places in the world to train in street photography. Everywhere people are extremely relaxed about being photographed, very inviting and friendly. Any inhibition you may feel about approaching strangers on the street will easily evaporate in Cuba. In addition, the colours and the energy of the country make for captivating photos.

So far, I have hardly been able to recap the workshop and the whole experience in Cuba, not the least been able to process much of the thousands of photos I captured during the two weeks I spent in the country. Thus, here and now, I will only show a handful of images taken during the celebration of the international workers’ day on May 1. In later blog posts, I will get back to the workshop itself and of course show more photos both from the workshop and captured on my own.

Let me round up this post by thanking all of you who have commented previous post while I have been away. I have not been able to respond while being in Cuba, simply because internet access is very limited. However, I promise I will get back to each and everyone of you.

On my Way to another Workshop

As I am writing this little post, I am sitting in the airport of Amsterdam on my way to Cuba. I am about to start teaching yet another workshop in this fascinating country. It’s actually ten years since I did my first photo workshop here. Then as now, I am teaching it together with my good friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann.

As with the photography we do, we also try constantly to develop our workshops. The workshop starting up later this week is quite different from the first one we did ten years ago. Hopefully—and I believe it is the case—it’s a better workshop. Of course, that is for the participants to decide.

My flight is about to board, so I have left you with a few photos from last year’s photo workshop here in Cuba. As internet access is really poor in Cuba I most likely won’t be able to post anything again before I am back in Norway.

However, if you find Cuba intriguing, Sven and I are teaching yet another workshop later this year in the end of November and beginning of December. It’s going to be quite a special workshop, following the revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.

Beautiful Belize

As I wrote in my previous post last week, Belize is foremost known for its amazing nature. Last week I showed the beautiful underwater world along the coast of the very small Central-American country. In addition to diving and various water sports, we also got to spend about a week in the interior, in and around the rain forest. Of course, like any other country in this part of the world, ancient cities of the Mayans and the Pre-Mayans have been discovered throughout the country—and until last century hidden in the rain forest. It’s always something special to visit this abandoned cities with their impressive ruins and structures still standing. I have visited many of them over the years, and this time in Belize, we were able to spend time in another two ancient cities. In addition to photos from Caracol and Xunantunich, here in this post I also show glimpse of daily life in Belize. I am just going to let them stand there without further comment.

Into a Different World

After a long winter with much snow and low temperatures, I openly admit I have immensely enjoyed two weeks of the warm, dry season in Belize. It’s been two fabulous weeks of holiday. No chores, no schedules, no stress and no phone calls.

Belize is foremost know for its amazing nature, whether we talk about the lush rainforest, the many impressive caves, or the country’s extraordinary coastline protected by one of the biggest underwater reefs in the world. I got to spend one of my two holiday weeks exploring these reefs with their colourful abundance of corrals, fishes and other sea life.

The photographer in me went wild as soon as I immersed myself into this different world. Since I wasn’t on assignment I felt free to do whatever I fancied. I could play and I could let go of any inhibitions or fixed ideas about how a photograph ought to look like. The pure change of environment—compared to what I usually photograph—was inspiring in and of itself. It was just as if the different nature, literally and figuratively, of the underwater world impelled this more playful approach—all the way from the moment of capturing to the final processing.

To capture the extraordinary life you find in and around corral reefs in a compelling way requires both extensive experience as an underwater photographer as well as good diving skills. Since I don’t possess either—as I am not diving enough on a regular basis—I tried to bring my regular photographic vision down into the underwater world.

Instead of looking for amazing creatures and trying to capture them, I would rather play with many elements within the frame, whether it was divers, a fish incidentally passing by or the corral reef itself. I would try to find meaningful or funny juxtapositions and above anything I was looking for space and trying to create a stage for everything to coincide on. This idea of a stage has become one of the backbones in my visual approach. It has the same purpose as a stage in a theatre. It holds the story of the photo together and creates a three-dimensional impression. In the underwater world, instead of photographing a fish up against the corral reef, I would turn around and try to capture some of the open sea behind it or even a diver in the background. It’s like props and backdrops on a theatre stage.

With this post I have selected a handful and a half of the many photos I took at the reef in Belize. I hope you enjoy them as a glimpse into a different world.

Where and When

As a photographer, I totally rely on my camera. Without a camera (and this includes my cell phone whenever I shoot pictures with it), I won’t be able to capture any photographs. This is a fact for any photographer or anyone taking photos—and who is not these days?

No camera, no photos. As simple as that. Isn’t it then quite an intriguing thought that the two most important choices having maybe the biggest influence on the result have nothing to do with the camera at all? Yes, camera quality does have an impact on the final result. So does aperture and shutter speed. But two of the most important tools for crafting photos are not camera related whatsoever.

I am talking about where and when. If you have no where and no when you might just as well not take any photo. In fact, you cannot capture any without a where and when. You may be unconscious or unaware about them, but any photograph captured is a statement about its where and when.

Think about, even a timeless photo not giving away or depending on a location, will have to have been capture sometime and somewhere. As a photographer, you may choose to not give time and location a visual importance, because you want to give the image a timeless and open quality, but just as often, if not most of the times, both where and when is an important part of the story in a photograph.

Thus, you should be aware of both choices. Because it is yours to pick. In a way, it seems obvious, as you cannot take any photo without a where or a when. You go on a holiday. You shoot photos of the trip and anytime something special happens. It’s clearly about both when and where. However, being consciously aware of the two factors—and more importantly their visual impact—will guarantee to boost the pull of your photos. Because there is more to both where and when than what follows automatically just by shooting.

You want to shoot the Eiffel tower? Obviously the where is Paris. But where is more than just Paris. You can stand on this side of the Seine or on that side of the Seine. You can stand close to the Eiffel tower or you can try to capture it from afar. Or, take the photo above. It’s captured in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA and it shows the sandstone formations around the Druid Arch Canyon. However, the where is not only the national park and the specific canyon, but also where in the canyon, which side of it I stand and also at what part of the formations I point my camera. It’s all very conscious decisions on my part.

There is even more to the where. Yes, it’s about the location, it’s about your position as indicated, but it’s also about your point of view. Do you take a step to the right to include the wall there, do you bend down to include more of the foreground, do you step closer or away from details you either want to emphasize or diminish? As you can see, where has quite more to it.

The same goes for time. Let’s look at the above photo again. Time is not only arbitrarily whenever I took the photo. There is a season to it—summertime, to be more specifically—and there is time of the day, too—in this case afternoon. Both have a visual impact. If I had chosen to shoot in wintertime, snow may have covered the ground and the quality of light might have been different. Same with the time of day. I waited until the sun was partially going down beneath the rocks to the right. This brought out drama as well as a direction of the sunlight that emphasized the structural quality of the sandstone formations. Morning light would have created a very different expression.

Another time dimension is important, too, although not so much in this photo. It’s about capturing the highlight of an event or of something going on. This has to do with choosing the right fraction of a second that shows what it’s all about—what the deceased and renown photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the decisive moment. An obvious example is the moment a high jumper reaches of the bar. Getting the decisive moment right can break and make a photo.

There is even a third aspect of time, which I will only mention slightly here, and which has to do with your choice of shutter speed. However, then we are back to the camera again and its controls, and this post was not about that. In other words, I have gone full circle here now. My advise is to be more aware of both where and when when you photograph—if you aren’t already. It could change the result dramatically.

On a different note: When you read this post, I will be travelling in Belize for two weeks. Thus, I will have to take a break from blogging, but I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.