On Location

A Creative Cuba Experience: Viñales and Havana

with Jennifer Spelman and Carlos Otero Blanco

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Course Description

In 2019 a meteor exploded over Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Traveling millions of miles, the meteor blazed through the sky and in a sonic boom powerful enough to break windows it shattered in the atmosphere before sending a perfect stony meteorite fragment to rest just outside the doorstep of El MogoteArt boutique hotel. This seems appropriate since El MogoteArt is in a setting of pure natural magic located within the heart of the Viñales Valley National Park with views of the famous gum-drop mogotes.

This comfortable hotel, a sanctuary for artists and creatively minded people, is more than just our home for the five days we share together in Viñales. El MogoteArt provides the foundation for an exquisitely curated journey into Cuba’s deep ingenuity and sophisticated artistic sensibilities. Our time is balanced between meeting and photographing Cuba’s organic farmers, entrepreneurs, dreamers, and artists as well as time for personal reflection and creative growth. Taking advantage of this dynamic natural setting and to foster this growth, two image review sessions led by Jennifer and Carlos are designed to spark thoughtful visual storytelling ideas.

After winding our way out of Viñales, we trade mountains for water and settle-in for 3 nights in Santa Fé, Havana. You read that right – Santa Fé, Havana, which is located in the municipality of Playa, a 20-minute drive from Havana Vieja. Here we stay at Casa Sarita which boasts phenomenal sunsets overlooking the water, hammocks swaying in the sea breeze, a private outdoor bar, and a perfect space for our creative adventures to continue. Santa Fé borders the small fishing village of Jaimanitas, well known for its marina and the studio of artist Fuster.

During this part of our creative journey, we enjoy the benefits of VIP access to Havana’s innovative art gallery, nightclub, and music fusion hub, La Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), with a special tour followed by a gourmet dinner. Also included during our time in Havana are private meetings with the Curator of the popular Havana Biannual and the Director of Fototeca de Cuba. These conversations are centered around learning what makes photographic projects resonate, from their valued experience. In addition, we take time to visit a number of Havana’s lesser-known neighborhoods continuing our quest to uncover authentic Cuba and find hidden gems for unique photographic opportunities.

Our Creative Cuba Experience leads us off the beaten path through small towns, rich with history and local color, then behind the scenes in vibrant Havana. Our days are threaded with delicious meals filled with many farm-to-table experiences. The main focuses of our travels are enjoying a relaxing experience while widening our understanding of Cuba and creating more mindful, project-driven images. Join Carlos and Jennifer for an exclusive and memorable journey to discover the artistic character of Cuba and heighten our own creative aspirations. 

Additional Information


This SFW Cuba program is open to amateur, advanced amateur, and professional photographers. This special program is limited to three couples.

What You Should Know:

Participants should be technically self-sufficient, as this is not a program to learn how to use your gear or editing software. Participants should be in very good health with good stamina and mobility, as long days are spent exploring—this means walking, sometimes for two to three hours at a time, occasionally up steep stairs, steep hills, and along uneven terrain.

Nature & Landscape, One-of-a-Kind, Portraiture
© Nerissa Escanlar
Jennifer Spelman

Jennifer Spelman is a documentary photographer. She is co-publisher of CubaSeen, a quarterly magazine showcasing photography and writing about Cuba.

Jennifer received her photographic training as an assistant with Santa Fe Workshops, working with some of today’s most preeminent photographers: Jay Maisel, Norman Mauskopf, and Joe McNally.

A sensitive photographer of people, Jennifer strives to create portraits with energy and insight. She is most at home on the streets of Havana and has worked with Santa Fe Workshops across Cuba since 2011. Jennifer is a patient educator who has co-instructed with National Geographic Expeditions and taught workshops in Morocco, India, Turkey, Romania, Mexico, Japan, in addition to Cuba.

A popular workshop instructor, Jennifer is also part of our Mentorship Program »

Instagram: @jennifer_spelman

Carlos Otero Blanco

Carlos Otero Blanco is a photographer who specializes in underwater photography. Despite the fact that Carlos left Cuba after finishing high school in Havana to study hydrogeologic science in a university institute of the city of Novocherkas, Russia, he recalls art was always his main interest. In fact, in the cruise ship that took him to the late Soviet Union, he was already shooting b/w film with a Zorki camera, one of the few available in Cuba in the 80’s. Carlos recalls that very soon after arriving to Russia, he was already doing extracurricular activities with the institute’s photographer and starting to learn the trade. So, back to Cuba with a university title, Carlos never really went into what he study abroad, but instead sold his old Moskvich soviet car and bought his first digital cameras. Since then, photography has been the main tool for his artistic drive, with a wide range of thematic interests that span from documentary photography, to portraiture, to conceptual art, and nature.

In documentary photography, Carlos is probably best known for his photographic study on Cuban bedrooms, with hundreds of these shot all over Cuba since 2009. This effort of years (still ongoing) has led to a specific book (“Dormir con…” [“To Sleep with…”], co-authored by Enrique Rottenberg), has been shown in several national and international exhibits, and in recently featured articles in the New York Times (Cuba’s Secret Bedrooms), other publications, and books on Cuban photography.

Carlos is also a deep lover of nature and adventure photography. He has done studies in subaquatic archeology, and holds several diving master and instructor international titles. In consequence, Carlos is a certified subaquatic photographer and video instructor, and has participated in apnea and diving productions, and has won prizes in three international subaquatic photography contests.

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