I recently returned from a second trip to Cuba, where once again, I learned as much about myself as I did about the country and its amazingly resilient, creative, loving people. My personal objective this trip was to work on my portrait skills—an area in which I admit to little prior confidence.
This trip, led by the inestimable guide and consummate photographer Lorne Resnick, was instructive, inspirational, and rewarding, for some of the images I brought home (which I’ve just posted here on the site) are aesthetically among my best, but truly tell the story of a remarkable people.
Working alongside Lorne was a lesson in photographic technique that is as much about interpersonal communication and trust as it is about shutter speed and focal length. Finding the best subject—children are wonderful simply because they’re unguarded and open to new adventures—is what Lorne calls “casting.” But to create a portrait beyond the flashed “thumbs up” or “V” sign when a subject spots a camera, we developed a teamwork system. One of us would take a simple snapshot of someone—who often flashed a hand sign or mugged for the camera—and while that photographer showed the image to the subject, the rest of us would hang back shooting, capturing the subject completely un-posed, reacting to their own picture.
We’d then show the subject the new shots…and an emotional connection was inevitably made. I quickly realized that when we change our subjects’ perception of our photographic purpose—when they realize we’re not just trying to steal a random image to show the folks back home, but that we’re interested in them as people of essence—magic happens.
When I first began my photographic and creative odyssey, I was once in Borneo shooting “interesting” faces in a marketplace with a 300mm zoom lens. But I discovered a certain feeling of personal discomfort at grabbing random portraits. I came to realize that I wasn’t really connecting with anyone and that I was, in fact, behaving like a photo-thief, simply stealing what I could.
I now know that photography isn’t about an amazing angle or perfect focus; it’s about the connection. On this trip with Lorne, I worked hard to make lasting connections with the people kind enough to open themselves up to my lens. I believe the results—both in terms of my photography and in terms of making new connections and friendships—are well worth the effort.
You’ll see a number of portraits of Cuban dancers from this past trip on my gallery pages. As Annie Leibovitz once said, “All dancers are a photographer’s dream. They communicate with their bodies and they are trained to be completely responsive to a collaborative situation.” I fell in love with each of these dancers, as you can tell by these pictures. Our connection is genuine, and something I treasure.
I hope you enjoy meeting my new friends through these new portraits as much as I enjoyed earning my connections with them.