Viva La Cuba! (Part III)

The Cuba 2018 gallery and Galleries section debuts. Thoughts on the kind of photography I find most rewarding—street portraits.

I’m happy to report that I’m done processing the top-tier selects from my Cuba photos and as such, can now officially debut the Galleries section of Cuba’s the only gallery in there now but more will be added regularly as I work my way through my image archive. Gallery contents will remain sparse—images and titles only—so that the photographs can take center stage. I’ll use the blog to add pithy commentary and behind-the-scenes context for select images from time to time because blah blah blah is what blahgs are best at.

I don’t have many rules about photography. I think a good photograph can be made with any equipment and that the things people fuss about—namely focus, bokeh and to some degree, exposure—turn out to be nowhere near as important to producing an effective image as people make them out to be. I guess my only “code” in photography is that I don’t take photos of the destitute and pass them off as some noble-minded attempt to depict of the state of humankind—I’m not a photojournalist. I also don’t edit photographs much at all—my edits are mostly limited to global adjustments, cropping and cleaning sensor spots—but this, in addition to trying to get things right “in the camera,” isn’t an artistic or philosophical stance as much as it is a factor of time constraints. In any case, I tend to disregard anyone who gets religious about what “proper” photography is or how it is done. Actually, I tend to disregard anyone who gets religious about anything or who uses the word “proper” as a way to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Which is basically everyone on the Intertubes.

I’ve always loved street photography and in the last 15 years or so have really gravitated to that as my genre of choice, both as a photographer and as a lover of others’ photographs. Without question, my favorite photos to take are street portraits because I find them the most challenging to pull off well. While traveling, I rarely shoot a lens with an effective focal length over 50mm and my main cameras are almost entirely manual, so pulling off an effective portrait is a mix of anticipation, mechanical competence, confidence and tact. I am in no small way forced by my equipment to get very close to my subjects and though many times I remain invisible (my definition of street portrait extends well past the look-straight-into-the-lens variety), I often have to interact with my potential subjects in some way. These interactions can range from a quick exchange of glances to long conversations with strangers, and the overwhelming majority of these have positive outcomes both in terms of connecting with people and in producing decent images. Sure, not everything goes smoothly. People make it pretty clear when they don’t want their photograph taken or that they have other issues with your existence and you have to learn to take this rejection in stride and move on. That’s a useful skill whether you have a camera in your hands or not.

As I explained in an earlier post, even though I try to cull images based exclusively on their aesthetic integrity, it’s always wonderful when a good photograph also has a good story or some depth behind it. For example, the purple-haired lady in the photos above pulled me aside to tell me that her name is Estelle and that she has a son in the US. She lived a few blocks from where I took the photo and was in the area to see a friend. But the thing she was most proud of was the fact that she is 84 years old (!), can still get around, and looks good doing it.

Send more Estelles.

Once I get a few more location-based galleries online, I’ll start adding thematic galleries to Street Portraits will be the first of them. In the meantime, there are over 135 images in the Cuba gallery. Grab a mug of whatever it is you drink (a mojito or crappy beer would be entirely appropriate) and have a gander–ideally on a tablet or desktop monitor.

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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