Viva La Cuba (Part II)

Images from Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa and thoughts on the photographic editorial process.

I’m about 50% through processing my selects from the Cuba trip. When I slog through images so soon after returning from a trip, something often happens to me —I’m disappointed in the lack of variety. As regards the Cuba image archive, it’s hard to not feel like I’m drowning in photos of standing or sitting around, of places (and people) flaunting their gorgeous decay, and of old American cars. When I got back from Southeast Asia, I felt like I was drowning in monks and temples. Naples, Italy: alleys and architecture. You can try to not take these cliché shots but it’s futile — these things comprise so much of the social tapestry and visual horizon, perhaps particularly for someone whose synapses haven’t yet normalized the things it’s not used to seeing.

Over time I’ve settled on the notion that it’s best to go through images about 2-3 years after I take them. I’m fairly ruthless when it comes to editing my own stuff. I rarely post more than one photo from a given scene and can revisit a “select” for days and sometimes months. When I return from a trip, I’m still connecting images with memories. On the one hand, this is good because right after a trip the photographic process is still fresh. But in the end I think this hurts the editorial process—what’s meaningful to me about taking an image isn’t always in the image, and if it is in the image it may not be in the image effectively. For me, anyway, it takes some time for the memory of making a particular photograph or set of photographs to fade enough to be able to evaluate the image on its own terms.

Besides, it’s both fun and meaningful to revisit a photographic session—be it a trip or a studio shoot—after some time. Without the crutch of memory, I look at the images on a deeper level for things of interest and often come up with selects that would never have passed muster originally. I notice things in a photo’s background that I perhaps didn’t even notice while taking the photo. I find textures—both literal and figurative—that draw my eye in and make my mind wander. Images that are not executed perfectly on a technical level—i.e. overexposed or focused poorly—can speak volumes. But only after I can get my memory to quiet down a bit.

I’m thinking a lot about photography these days, partially as a result of returning from a trip with some talented photographers to Cuba, but also because I’m in the middle of redoing my photo archive (this will take a year or so). But make no mistake, is not a photography blog. I’ve got so many projects going on right now and photography just happens to be top of mind, but I’m simultaneously designing a greenhouse, redoing half of my woodshop, building up two bicycles, making good on my interest in metalworking and coopering, and of course eating my way through life. And that’s when I’m not working my day job. So expect those other categories to fill out, but they’ll do so in due course.

Next up: some posts on photographic gear and packing for a photography trip.

About the author Narayan Nayar

Family man. Designer. Photographer. Woodworker. Food enthusiast. Traveler. Flyfisher. Bicyclist. Platypus aficionado. Frequent user of the letter 'e'.

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