Older Cubans Go to the Head of the Line

I’m trying to get everything caught up today. Tomorrow, I have to get my right hand fixed. The thumb joint has just about had it, so I get to have an arthroplasty. It’s a small operation in terms of area involved, but it sounds complicated and tedious. I am fortunate to be at one of the better hand surgery centers around, UNC Hospitals, and I am optimistic. Arthritis is just another one of the unpleasant aspects of getting old. I’m discovering these “aspects” on a more and more regular basis.

When we visited Cuba last year one of our excursions was to an elder day care center. Here the elderly members of a family could come for the day, be safe, get food, socialize, and then go home for the evening. This allowed the younger family members to work, gave the elders some social out of the home experience and was a generally win-win situation. There were probably twenty-five people in the home we visited in Regla. There weren’t any sick individuals, and the woman in charge of the facility had no special medical training. She was like most Cubans, simply a kind person with great respect for older people.

On Saturday I watched a show “The Secret Side of Cuba” on UNC-EX. It described the impoverished side of Cuban life and the difficulties encountered by most of the people. I had not thought about this as secret, but I guess it is. The gist of things was that the people are very poor, still oppressed, and in spite of this they remain optimistic, positive, and happy. The elderly people who are unable to work in the tourist industry or the black market suffer the most. Some sell newspapers; they make 2 cents a paper, typically 40 cents a day. Everyone stands in line; I’ve done this many times myself. One general practice is that the disabled and elderly go to the head of the line no matter if in line to get some government food or at Coppelia to get ice cream! The man in the back of the photo above was born in Cuba. He moved to Michigan as a young man to work in the auto industry. He regularly sent money back to his family, and when he retired, he moved back to Havana to spend the last phase of his life with his family. Family is extremely important in Cuba. He said that he was happy to be back, that his life had been ideal. His friend, in the front, had begun to suffer from dementia. He required closer observation which the Cuban-America-Cuban happily contributed.

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William Eggleston Enigmatic Color Photography

There is a terrific article re: William Eggleston who is one of my favorite photographers in the Independent yesterday. It also has a small gallery of some of his most appealing images, the one posted here is included. I used this photograph as much as any other when I was teaching. Probably, because it reminded me of my grandmother. She used to have a similar porch swing seat, a “glider” we called it.

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If It Dosen’t Move It’s Dead! Media Matters!

“If it doesn’t move, it’s dead.” Bryan Storm said this at a media workshop during the LOOK 3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA in 2011. People have always been intrigued by the lifelike quality of photography, even more so by that possessed by “moving pictures.


While waiting at the doctor today I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft. He mentions that his family got their first television in 1958. My family beat his by one year. I can remember that because 1957 was the year UNC beat Kansas for the NCAA title. King points out that he is the last wave of writers who spent their time forming ideas from thinking and reading, and not watching whatever is served up on the tube.

Reading this started me thinking about television, movies, and photography. I realized that I had been present for most of the dramatic growth of the visual age if there is such a thing. Most photography schools are teaching video courses along side photography courses these days. The industry has become commercial studio work or editorial work making photos that persuade people to do something (buy or give). Many documentary projects are now video productions and we get them from cable TV or stream them from various Internet sites where most documentary workers hope to publish their work. The value of all this image making and video making to our lives remains an elusive target. It seems clear though that photography schools are more media than pure photography these days. Is this a good trend?

Two years ago attending the conference, LOOK 3, in Charlottesville, VA; I took a one-day seminar with Bryan Storm of Mediastorm. We spent the day dissecting one section of Danny Frazier’s Driftless: Stories from Iowa. The book published by the Center for Documentary Studies, Durham, had won the Honickman prize. Frazier later got together with the folks at Mediastorm to put more life into this project. This ended with a wonderful mix of still photos, video, and audio that is a spellbinding story. Clearly this was a project made better by the synergism that can exist when still photos, video, and audio are mixed. It was abundantly clear: Media Matters!

Today, I Googled “visual age” and one of the top sites was an advertisement for a program teaching how to better preach in this visual age. How to incorporate imagery into sermons, use media to accomplish the mission of the church, and so on was all over this site.  I started this article with the mindset that still photography was dead or dying, hardly a new idea. The results of the Internet search seemed to support that thought. But I soon realized in conversation with a very helpful friend that when you see things like Driftless: Stories from Iowa and other more recent projects, many on the site Facing Change/Documenting America, it is clear that photography is alive and well, it just has some new and good friends.

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Many Look, Few See

Many look, few see. I wish I had a quarter for each time Charlie Morrell said that to me. Charlie was the Sancho Panza to Al Weber’s Don Quixote, we met at one of Al’s workshops. I have thought a lot about that simple statement since I first heard it. I have read other things like The Tao of Photography by Phillippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro, which in many more words say the same thing and more. Charlie was all about keeping things simple. Unfortunately Charlie got sick and died a few years back and I still, like many others, miss him. He took pictures incessantly.

I have had many times when I have just been too spell-bound by what I was seeing to make a photo. Sometimes I realize that I should be doing that and then do it hurriedly, missing out on a good image. Other times it just seems natural to be looking through the viewfinder and hopefully seeing a good part of what the camera sees. Recently I have been going out and exploring the territory around my new address. It is of much interest because I actually was born here in Chatham County. I have no ties to the County other than it being next to Orange County where I lived and worked for a considerable time, but it seems like an interesting place. Getting out with a camera and seeing what I can find might not only help me be more familiar with where I am now living, it might even yield an occasional decent photograph. If spring will finally make up its mind and get here (or send its formal regrets), then that plan might come to fruition sooner.

So I think that I will venture out an about and hope that while I’m looking around, I might actually see something. If so, I’ll make a photo.

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More on Racism in Cuba–The Importance of a Few Words

This past Sunday I wrote about my black Cuban friend Roberto. I referenced an article published in the NYTimes. In this morning’s times there is a follow-up article detailing the circumstances of how the journalist who wrote that article lost his job. According to the Times this AM, “The author, Roberto Zurbano, in an article published March 23, described a long history of racial discrimination against blacks on the island and said ‘racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it’.” He was later removed from his position as editor at publishing arm of the Casa de Las Americas Cultural Center.

Mr. Zurbano states that the NYTimes editorial staff changed the title of his article from “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Has Not Yet Finished” to “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.” According to Mr Zurbano this change was made without his approval and makes a considerable difference in the intent and weight of the article. The Times defends its translation and says it is sorry for Mr. Zurbano’s troubles, but it feels that it did nothing wrong. That stance is not substantiated by the fall out on the Cuban side of the issue.

Support for Mr. Zurbano’s position can be found in a follow-up article in Havana Times by Esteban Morales, a leading thinker, writer, and scholar in Cuba considered one of the go-to authorities on matters of race relations. He opens his discussion with the article’s headline. Morales states “Claiming that “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” his (Zurbano’s) argument doesn’t hold up, not even within the complex reality of Cuba today.” On the website for UNEAC, the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, there are at least eight essays and opinion pieces about the article and almost each one starts with the headline as being to extreme and absolutist.

Certainly there is no intentional harm done by the NYTimes. The point of this post is how carefully words must be chosen when writing about such sensitive topics. It is also the case that not understanding the situation the writer of the article was in can cause it to worsen. Again not an intentional fault, but a common one. Most of the world does not think like the US nor does it share our can do attitudes. I observed first hand how these differences worked when I took college students to Cuba and we would meet with Cuban students, artists, and photographers. The cultural differences can be substantial.

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