Spotlight on Cuba: Jennifer Spelman Talks Discovery
Jennifer Spelman is a key member of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops Cuba Program. Her upcoming trips in 2014 will mark her fourth year leading Cuba trips for The Workshops, and she finds that each visit provides her with some small shift of insight into what makes Cuba such a unique place.
When was the first time you went to Cuba?
I went for the first time in 2001 through the Semester at Sea program. It gave me a taste of a place that, 10 years later, I would revisit with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.What were your expectations?
It's easy to come to Cuba with a lot of preconceptions about its history and politics. Each trip I make into Cuba comes with some small shift of insight into what makes it such a unique place. The Cubans took a path through history that was full of all kinds of twists and turns. It's apparent in the obvious details like the old cars, but it's threaded through more subtle pieces of the culture, too. The Cuban people are ingenious and incredibly adaptable.
What makes Cuba special for photographers?
Cubans have this indomitable spirit. They dance with gusto, argue with passion over baseball, and are incredibly open about sharing their enthusiasm. When you combine that spirit with a stunning mix of architecture, set to the backdrop of the sea, you start to understand why it really is a photographer's wonderland.
How do your groups respond to the experience of Cuba?
Cuba catches people by surprise. Our groups arrive expecting the old cars and beautiful cityscape, but the genuine nature of the people is usually a delightful discovery. The pictures sometimes become secondary to the discovery of the place, and the interactions and connections that occur. How has Cuba influenced your work?
I've learned to work more fluidly and quickly. I’ve also been influenced by the Cuban photographers we work with, especially by their keen sense of anticipation and their playful use of color and theme.
What's the most challenging aspect of working in Cuba?
Focusing: getting beyond the clichés and trying to find an original approach. I suppose that's true of working in any country, but in Cuba I feel it even more intensely. What's your favorite image you've taken while you were on the island?
I’ll quote Imogen Cunningham, “What’s my favorite picture? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
Given all the cultural gulfs between the United States and Cuba, what do you see as the artists’ role in exchanges?
The news distributes facts and the artists distribute the sentiments of a country. Artists document the feelings of the people.
Have you worked with Cuban photographers? What was noteworthy about the experience?
They all seem to have an incredible sense of moment and timing. It’s among the best I've ever seen, and to watch them photograph is an experience. They move fluidly and decisively, mixing irony, humor and other messages into the layers of their photographs. I have to say, it's exciting to see some of the photographers we work with at Fototeca de Cuba starting to get international exposure
In Picturing Cuba you are taking the group into the countryside as well as Havana. What do you hope to achieve by presenting your group with such contrast?
Hopefully, it will give them with a broader picture of life on the island. Life in the city of Havana versus some of the more rural areas is quite different. Both present incredible opportunities to connect with the people.
Do you prefer Havana or the countryside?
I like touching into both each time I go into Cuba. The contrast between the two accentuates both. I forget how bustling and busy Havana is until I take a trip out to a rural farm and time slows and the noise quiets.
If you were to sum up your Cuban experience in one sentence, what would it be?
Yes, more: soon.
Anything you'd like to add?
A quote from Ernest Hemingway quote. It’s so haunting to visit his old stomping ground on the island and I have really connected to his passion for the place.
“He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.”
- The Old Man and the Sea
Join Jennifer on her next available trip to Cuba and let this bequiling country catch you by surprise.
Picturing Cuba: Havana and the Countryside
with Jennifer Spelman
January 21 - January 29, 2014