December 18, 2013

Cuba Spotlight: Arthur Meyerson Dodges Potholes and Cliches

Arthur Meyerson led his first Cuba Cultural Exchange for Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in February 2012. So began his love affair with Cuba, and his desire to return as soon as possible.

What were your expectations the first time you went to Cuba?
Even though I’ve traveled to over 90 countries and to all seven continents, I wasn't sure what to expect! After all, in my lifetime, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to travel to Cuba. So, as I always do, I tried to avoid any preconceptions and left myself open to what I would find.

What makes Cuba special for photographers?
It's like photographing in a living museum, a place locked in a time warp. You find architectural interiors and exteriors ravaged by time. Exotic landscapes and seascapes. People that are joyful, resilient, and inventive, and a rich culture built on tradition. Translation: light and color and moments galore!  

How have your groups responded to their Cuban experience?
Most people come to Cuba with a strong sense of curiosity and added to that is the idea of traveling to a "forbidden place." To date, I'm not aware of anyone who hasn't enjoyed and benefited from the experience

What about your work?
That is a good question! From the moment I started photographing in Cuba I felt that I was creating a new body of work. Not just about the place and the people, but in the way that I was working. 

Is there anything you would change regarding your approach to working in Cuba?
At this time, I don't think so. This is a very interesting time to be creating images in Cuba. I'm trying to build a body of work that is consistent and honest, while maintaining a personal point of view. 

What’s a favorite moment from your trips to Cuba? 
I was walking the backstreets of Havana and came across some kids playing stickball. I mean, literally, baseball with a stick and a rolled up ball of tape hard enough to work as a ball. They asked me if I wanted to pitch and I couldn't resist. The hard part was, I wanted to pitch and photograph at the same time. Being right-handed (ball in the left hand and camera in the right hand) that must have been amusing to watch. But I did get one across the plate that the kid connected with and got the shot at the same time! Try that, Roger Clemens!

How does Cuba compare with other places where you've worked?
It's the only country where almost no one minds being photographed, and to some degree welcome it.

What's the most challenging aspect of working in Cuba?
Avoiding the photographic clichés and dodging the potholes!

What's your favorite image you've taken while you were on the island?
I always say that selecting a favorite image is like asking which is your favorite child. One photo moment that sticks out in my mind is when Tony Bonnano and I had been having a few drinks at The Floridita Bar one night. When we walked outside, I spotted this beautiful vintage red car that was glowing (inside and out) under the streetlights. I asked Tony if he wouldn't mind chatting with the owner of the car while I made a few shots from the other side of the vehicle with the owner inside and his back towards me. It's one of my favorite images, and I thank Tony and his "gift for gab" for helping to make it happen.

Given all the gulfs between the United States and Cuba, what do you see as the artists’ role in cultural exchanges?
As a photographer, I feel a desire to record what I find and to keep it true and honest. The photographs that we are making in Cuba now will have historical importance, and we as photographers need to honor that.

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?
Last November, we did a day trip to Viñales, a beautiful area in the tobacco-growing region of Cuba, and it gave us just a taste of what we are hoping to experience by spending a couple of days there this time. I think that it’s going to provide an interesting contrast to life in Havana and hopefully will yield some wonderful images.

If you were to sum up your Cuban experience in one sentence, what would it be? 
Besides the wonderful people and culture, Cuba continues to be one of the best photographic experiences that I have ever had, anywhere.

Anything else you'd like to add? 
I have to tip my hat to Reid and Santa Fe Photo Workshops for making this dream come true!

If you’re dreaming of visiting Cuba join Arthur on his upcoming trip!

with Arthur Meyerson
March 11 - March 19, 2014

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