The Portrait and the Back-story:
It’s titled “Humble Mechanic” and it’s my highest scoring portrait to date. I love to compete in Professional Photographers of America (PPA) print competitions. I’ve found that competing makes me a better photographer by making me pay attention to the details.
I had first met this gentleman in 2013 and had a couple of small prints to give him when I returned to Trinidad, Cuba in 2014.
He remembered me taking the images and we had a warm exchange of smiles, hugs, and handshakes.
He was willing to let me photograph him again so I got him under a small tree to try to block the overhead light, but the location wasn’t working well.
My mind was racing. What can I do ? Where can I put him ? Portraiture is not my forte. If I were dropped into a forest, or a desert, or a city I’m confident I could produce a landscape image that pleased me.
Directly across the street was a large city building with a colonnade and portico. It would have to work. I hustled my friend across the street, got him under cover and spotted him where I saw light breaking around a column creating a light side and a shadow side. Here I should get the same light on my friends face and I did. The bonus was a ton of reflected light coming from the marble floor and yellow wall behind my friend making a nice accent on his back.
The session did not last long. Some of my travel mates spied me and descended on us like paparazzi. My poor friend was overwhelmed and out of his comfort zone. I’m not complaining at all. I got my shots and my friend got his pictures and some money.
I hope to find him again.
I’ve studied with some great natural light portrait photographers here in New Hampshire in an effort to learn this craft. I have to thank Steve Bedell, Don Chick, and Jeff Dachowski for getting just enough knowledge into my head to allow me to pull this one off.
With my friend. Image by Kate Mann.
This Havana artist spotted me taking his photograph from across the street and waved me over.
I thought I was in trouble and I prepared to take the hit. Instead, he cleared a place for me to sit and showed me some of his art work. He wasn’t upset at all. He then pulled out an old Cuban magazine from before the revolution. As I remember, it was dated 1957 or 1958. He spoke a little English and described all the photos as he turned the well-worn pages. There were photos of Havana in all it’s glory, photos of a young Fidel, and Che Guevara. It was a fascinating history lesson with pictures and a nice break from exploring the streets and neighborhoods in Old Havana. I thought he wanted to sell the magazine and I would have bought it, but he informed me it was not for sale. He did direct me to where I might find similar items. I regret that I never found time to get there.
They watch from the streets, from corners, from steps, or they peer out of windows.
They sit, they stand, they pass the time of day, and they watch.
It may be because they want to escape their dark and dank living quarters. It may be because they have no job to got to. It may be because they have nothing else to do.
I believe it’s because Cubans are friendly and sociable people.
They like to smile and laugh. They like music and dance and they are ready to interact with fellow human beings.
It’s a pleasure to get to know them. I can walk a busy street in Havana, look everyone I pass in the eye, smile, and say hello. I get smiles and hellos right back. Try that in your average U.S. city of two million people, if you dare.
In the U.S., I might choose to give a posse of tough guys a wide berth, but I’ve not yet felt threatened while wading into a crowd or passing by a line-up of Cubans.
I might be naïve and I know I’m easily recognized as a tourist but I think I can judge character and for the most part, Cubans seem genuinely friendly. I get a good vibes.
No I-Pads or video games here.
This young man wanted to show off a bit and demonstrate his home-made stilts. Recalling my own youth, I immediately identified with his imagination and creativity. I too, constructed all sorts of “toys” out of old lumber, baby carriage wheels, and straightened out nails.
Ernesto Guevara, El Che or simply Che has become legendary with the help of Castro’s propaganda machine. Che images are everywhere and I’m certain no one dares to remove them. Che merchandise is for sale in all the tourist areas and his image is on the tres peso note.
I met this Cuban in a park just outside my Havana hotel. I spotted him and feigned surprise about seeing a reincarnated Che. He went into his posing routine and played the part well. We both had a laugh and a cigar.
Anyone interested should read “Exposing the Real Che Guevara” by Humberto Fontova.
On the street it’s common to see men engaged in random games of chess or dominos. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the park outside my Trinidad hotel set up with a tournament for younger Cubans. Rows of desks and students with chess boards filled the park. Adults or older youth who were more experienced would play several games at once by going from desk to desk, making their move, and leaving the students to ponder where to move next. The children were all very well-behaved and seemed to enjoy the attention.
Whether I’m in the mountains, the desert, or the city, I always enjoy the quiet stillness just before dawn.
In Havana the streets are mostly empty until people wake to start their day. The ever-increasing ambient light gradually combines with streetlights to provide unique photo opportunities.