Posts Tagged ‘Walker Evans


Cuba, part three of three

I’ve been back from Cuba for a little over a week though I am still living in a bit of a reverie. Time there had a different dimension. Spending 8 days completely unplugged from the cell phone and internet was a wonderful way to decompress. I was able to give myself the luxury of being taken over by pure photography. And yet, I am left with a feeling of sadness and frustration from what I witnessed. It is not for me to speak about the situation in Cuba from a political standpoint. I must leave that to others. But I can speak about what I saw as a woman and a mother.

Before I left for Cuba, I had many friends who had visited speak forcefully about the beauty and spirit of the Cuban people. While I did see this fully expressed I also saw sadness, resignation, frustration, suffering, and even boredom. I saw children trying to learn in schools open to all the noise and confusion of the streets. I saw elderly citizens in a daycare with no medicines and people everywhere surviving on their wits and little else. I searched for stores to purchase food and basic necessities. There are none. I was told about the monthly ration stores and even visited one. But there was nothing to ‘purchase’. Deliveries are unpredictable. I have no knowledge of the quality of health care. But I do know that you can not drink the water or brush your teeth with it. Here as in other developing nations, waterborne illnesses are prevalent and serious. Even walking on the streets becomes an exercise in self-preservation. Gaping holes, broken pipe, garbage and sewage, unearthed cobblestones and refuse from crumbling buildings make navigation an art form.

But there was progress to be seen as well. Crews worked nearly around the clock to build a new hotel beside the Parque Centrale, one of the main tourist hotels. Streets that had been unearthed were re-paved with all new piping installed for water, sewer, gas, and electricity. But these things are works in progress. One morning, while visiting an elderly woman living alone in Vedado, the electricity was off. I asked “is this normal”? (As it was 9:30 in the morning and not a particularly ‘high demand’ day.) The reply: “Everything is normal in Cuba.”

So, ten days later, I am reliving my journey, searching for a deeper understanding of all I experienced. It is true that music and laughter were prevalent and beautifully expressed. But sadness and lack and a certain heaviness of spirit were just as prevalent. The Cuban people survive by their wits and generosity with each other. But to thrive, they will need access to clean water, educational and economic opportunity. There is hope for the coming years, but also a resignation to wait and see. I will be watching, and waiting to return. There is hope and deep beauty there amongst the decay and ruin. Walker Evans saw and photographed it 80 years ago. I will be forever grateful for my experience but will be wondering ‘how long will it survive?’

I hope you’ll take a moment to click through the slide show. There is more information to accompany the captions. As always, with gratitude for your time and interest. (Please share!).






Cuba, part two of three

When faced with all new sights, sounds, and scents, it is easy to be overwhelmed and lose our way creating images. During my time in Cuba I had the immense good fortune to be traveling with world class photographers including my friend and mentor, Sam Abell. Perhaps the living, breathing presence of the words I hear when I’m out photographing (find your setting, your backdrop, and let the life unfold, come into it), allowed me to be more settled than I normally would be in such an exciting situation. Perhaps I was afraid that I would create just mediocre images? But in nearly each moment, I was composed….and waiting. Cuba unfolded before me offering color and gesture, movement and stillness, and in the best moments, metaphors for the fullness and poignancy of life.

My stated goal at the beginning of the trip was to make one meaningful image. I did that…for myself. It’s up to the audience to decide if my vision translates into something of value. Was I walking in the footsteps of Walker Evans? I think so. He found value in the everyday, in the mundane, in the quiet moments of life.



Cuba and community

I’ve been writing about community now for the last several posts. This past 10 days I have seen community in action on a grand scale. I’ve just returned from a photo odyssey in Cuba, where I was part of an amazing group of photographers participating in a marvelous project: In the Footsteps of Walker Evans. We were commemorating his trip there in 1933 to create images for the book The Crime of Cuba. This project is the brainchild of my friend, and  a great friend to photography, Skip Klein. Once again, Skip…hats off to you!

We had wonderful Cuban guides for our time there. By the second day, Grency and others were happy to talk to us about what life was really like in Havana and in the countryside. For example, most transport for medium and long distance happens by hitchhiking. It is completely safe and everybody does it. Everybody. Havana is a study in circumvention and ingenuity. If you need a different house or apartment (say you switched jobs and locations in the city), well you go to the Swap meet for apartments. Everyone knows it is on Friday morning on a corner beside the Prado. Ownership is unusual in Cuba…but there is no rent, either. Perhaps you need to call the US? Well, it’s illegal, but you can call Toronto and have the operator transfer you.

Windows and doors are apparently optional in Havana. It seems that all life takes place on the street, or inches from the street in the living room that is open to all passersby. I suppose this helps to support the idea of community…and the “we’re all in this together” attitude.

One last example: traveling back to Havana from Vinales in an early morning cab ride, we had a flat tire. The driver simply hailed a horse and cart passing by (on a 4 lane highway) and asked the driver and his companion to take the tire to their house. He indicated that he would pick it up on the return trip. We asked ‘did you know that man?’ He replied ‘no, but it’s no problem, he told me where he lives, I’ll just stop by on the way back to Vinales and pick it up.’

Community. Everybody helps everybody at seemingly every turn. It’s true that it’s a survival mechanism in Cuba. But how nice is it? It was an eye-opening experience.

Here’s the first set of images…there will be several. As always, comments are most welcome and sharing with your friends (in the spirit of community) is a great thing to do!


Eudora Welty and the photography of the South

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to write about a literary background for photography, not just my photography, but how it shaped a landscape for others as well.  When I first picked up the book, The Well and the Mine, by Gin Phillips, I was attracted to the cover photograph.  As it was a staff pick at Elliott Bay, and a signed copy, I was happy to carry it home.  Sometime during my reading of it, I saw that the cover photograph was one by Eudora Welty.  This was a surprise to me as I was not then aware of her considerable talent and early devotion to photography.  I knew Eudora Welty only through her marvelous novels and short stories.  She makes this comment about photography: “Life doesn’t hold still……Photography taught me that to be able to capture transience, by being ready to click the shutter at the crucial moment, was the greatest need I had”.  Traveling and photographing throughout the South during the Great Depression gave Welty the time to examine the lives of others and to hold those moments still….as if to gather them for a later harvest in her stories. 

The cover photograph, along with the time and place of the story, planted a thought…..and then came the opportunity to take a road trip through Alabama by making a wide arc before my final destination in the Florida panhandle.  While driving I remembered the other great photographers of the era and decided that Hale County was my destination.  I had no particular spot that I wanted to visit, I just wanted to see the country they had seen.  This means getting off the highway and searching for ever smaller roads.  There were no interstates, shopping malls or travel plazas in 1935.  I needed to find red clay roads. 

I had only a day to wander, and I didn’t create a photographic masterpiece.  No matter…….my intention was to travel in the footsteps of the Masters for a bit….to get my own sense of Gin Phillips’ physical and emotional landscape in The Well and the Mine.   I knew, too, that Walker Evans’ masterpiece of the Fields family on their porch was photographed in Hale county.  I wanted to find those porches, the sharecropper’s shacks.  Not that porch or that shack, just a general feel for the time.  I stopped at high noon in front of a dilapidated old crossroads store to make a couple of photographs.  There were two stray dogs there and blazing light, little else.  I made the landscape shot, then went closer and photographed some details on the storefront: the narrow strips of siding with inumerable coats of paint, a shutter with a horseshoe, vines covering the sides and growing over a doorway. 

Fast forward to my return to Seattle.  While browsing through photography books in Elliott Bay, I picked up a new volume on Walker Evans.  The page fell open to a photograph titled  Sprott Store, Hale County, Alabama.   I was stunned.  There was the the building I photographed.  There was the horseshoe.  The facade had a second story at that time, but there it was…..right at the intersection of those three dirt roads.   Life did hold still for me in that moment, the intervening 80 years fell away and my heart was connected to that landscape, that time, those photographers.    The literature of place and time was the underpinning for my journey and a deeper understanding of place and subject.  That is its own reward.  All else is an embarrassment of riches.  As if to prove that point, at Christmas last year I was given an old copy of Walker Evans’ volume that accompanied his Museum of Modern Art collection  in New York.  The cover photograph:  Sprott Store.  Imagine the surprise when I recounted this story to the unsuspecting giver.


Bottle Tree, Eudora Welty, a scene later depicted in her short story "Livvie".

 For additional images from Walker Evans and my photograph of Sprott Store, please click on “Walker Evans, etc.” in the menu bar under the blog title.



“If you want to be a better photographer….

….be a more interesting person”.   This quote is from Jay Maisel’s interview with Chris Orwig.  Here’s the link:

I’ve had the pleasure of assisting Jay on a couple of occasions while he was teaching in Seattle.  The conversation that took place during the class was the best part of those weeks because of remarks like the one quoted.  It’s a marvelous affirmation of “We photograph as we are”.   Though there are few people as interesting as Jay Maisel, we can always try.  Here are a few things that have made my life more layered in the last couple of months.  Has it made me a more engaging or interesting person?  I hope so.  What I do know is that I’ve expanded my view of the world and the human condition through my inquiry.    It gives me an opportunity to think about what I want to do photographically and how that will impact my world and The World, if at all.  It’s just another layer of awareness. 

Books: Non fiction

The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz…the amazing endurance of the human body and spiritThe Long Walk

We Die Alone, David Howarth….endurance of the human spirit and community effortWe Die Alone


People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks (one of my favorite authors)…a sacred book travels through history on a circuitous path7cd962f6b3f7dd2c

Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski….it’s rare to find a book with this depth of emotion and beauty of phrasing.dd9095cc1a5f8ee2 

For the rest of the list, including films, please click on “Favorite Photography Books” in the bar above, then click subpages: books, film.

I’ll add some more in a couple of days.  My next post will explore a literary background to photography.  Here’s a hint:

This photo was made while driving through the South on the way to the NANPA event in Destin, Florida.Thinking of Evans

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