Photography in Cuba, photographing Cuba
Return participant Ardy Arani shot exclusively on his iPhone. Photo © Ardy Arani.

Photographing Cuba: Beyond Expectations

Photography in Cuba, photographing Cuba

The Image Flow is back from our second (perhaps annual) workshops in Cuba. There were new experiences, old friends, and of course a night at the Tropicana. The group came home exhilarated and stimulated and with a portfolio of work even beyond our own expectations. Stuart Schwartz fills us in.

We wanted to build on the success of our first photography workshop in Cuba in April 2015, and this past February organized two more back to back, Cuba: Behind Closed Doors and The Havana Highway: Rum, Cars & Cigars. It was particularly satisfying to us as organizers that all six participants from last April signed up again, and we added to that some great new faces, including two old friends of mine who joined us all the way from Switzerland.

Both sessions turned out to be just ideal, from student participation to the variety of shooting opportunities. Of course there were glitches, as there will be when organizing a group of people—especially in Cuba—but it’s a testament to both our local guides Ramses and Alex and the go-with-the-flow attitude of the group that no matter what came up, we made the best of it. Ramses Batista, a renowned photographer in his own right, was our man on the ground; he’d make a call, and all of a sudden we were in a private apartment shooting portraits of a fascinating individual. Often, those little glitches served to make our experience even more authentic and unique.

Working out of Ramses Fiat Lunch Box All the photo gear on the roof
Jock McDonald driving Ramses Batista's Fiat Lunch Box (a Cuban photographer and long-time friend), with all the photo gear on the roof!

A Cuban Will Give You the Shirt Off His Back

Working out of Ramses Fiat Lunch Box All the photo gear on the roof

Jock McDonald went to Cuba for the first time in 1990 with Bernardo Gonzalez, the son of Mexican Minister of Culture Juan Francisco Gonzalez. The elder Gonzalez had had become somewhat of a mentor to Jock on Latin American culture after giving him his first retrospective show in Mexico. “Juan Francisco said to me, ‘You’ll never understand Latin America if you don’t understand Cuba,’” Jock recalls.

“But he said, ‘I’m not going, I’m married. I’m going to have my son take you.’ I will never forget the look in his son’s eyes, the look that said, ‘I’m not taking a gringo to Cuba!’” Jock laughs.

Since 1990, photographer he has made some 50 trips to Cuba. What keeps him coming back, are the friendships he has found.