I've wanted to visit Cuba for well over a decade. Maybe it was amplified by the Buena Vista Social Club, but I was most definitely attracted to the sights and sounds of Havana and heard great things from folks that had made the trip over the years.
Getting there is fairly easy if you go thru the right channels, however it's not as easy as it could be and requires a good bit of planning. I was fortunate to go with an organization that not only caters to photographers, they do everything possible to make the trip and logistics go smoothly.
I had no idea how the Cuban people would act toward visitors. Knowing that we were going to be on the streets, taking photographs and looking out of place comparatively. Bombarding their country with all of our western wares and fancy cameras.
I had heard that Havana was safe and was completely open-minded, or should I say cautiously optimistic.
What I found was that not only did I feel safe, I felt welcomed. So often, Cubans came up to me and asked where I was from. Despite my best efforts with speaking Spanish, they wanted to practice their English speaking with me, which was a relief because my Spanish is pretty bad.
Being from New York resonated with a lot of folks, however most Cubans I met not only never visited New York, they've never left the island.
As I made my way through my trip, I focused on taking portraits. My favorite portraits are the ones that were not "set-up", however there were so many great moments and faces along the way that I'm honored to have made photos with so many people.
I am a portrait photographer and a people-person, so whenever possible, I introduced myself and struck up a conversation.
Amazing how a little goes a long way and despite our countries being what seems to be worlds apart, we're all on this big rock together and all want the same things.
With the increase in tourism, there are folks looking for a quick buck, but I found that rather than throwing money at everyone that targeted me as an ATM, I struck a conversation.
I bartered with commodities when possible, but often, just making an effort to talk to people was enough.
Think about it. We're guests in their country. A country where they have little freedoms. We have a responsibility to behave respectfully when we're visiting. Not only for moral reasons, but to preserve the mojo.
I've traveled and seen "Ugly Americans". Folks that are pushy, loud, disrespectful, condescending and impatient. The ones that desperately search for conveniences - St*rbucks, McDon@lds etc. Don't be that person.
When you're visiting another country, especially one that's not been commercialized and westernized, show some respect. Take the time to enjoy it for what it is, not what you want it to be.
We're troubadours when we're visiting other places and should do whatever possible to not ruin it for other travelers.
Going to Cuba, you realize that you need to slow down. Things happen at a different pace there and there's not much you can do about it other than accept it.
Sure, there's plenty of hustle and bustle. Everyone's moving and grooving, but all that we've come to rely on to expedite our daily lives is strangely absent over there.
So here it is, I find myself talking about mentality again. I'm still unpacking all of the thoughts in my mind about my experience in Cuba, however it seems that my mentality has shifted. In a good way.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this will affect my photography moving forward. My excitement for photography has been bolstered. Renewed.
Sure, I wake up every day looking forward to making photos. I love photography, and my visit to Cuba has only strengthened that passion.