On the Road with Film - Cuba
All images Cuba March 2019. Instagram | @haraldclaessen
Last March, we organised something excitingly new, something close to our heart. We decided to launch an Analog Adventure Workshops.
On the road with film - Cuba.
First one on the list this year was our Cuban Analog Adventure Road trip in March. As always, in a small group this time with guest-lecturer Ryan Muirhead. We met up in Havana in a beautiful homestead (Casa Particular). All participants were from the US and had easily obtained a visa fully compliant with the Department of State (regulations which remain unchanged to this date). Yes, it’s still easy to travel to Cuba, but that may change in the years ahead.
Looking at all the beautiful analog cameras and the amount of film brought by all of us, I knew straight away that we would be an amazing group and we quickly connected about our film photography passion and about life in general.
After a day exploring the different neighbourhoods of Havana, we loaded our very comfortable Mercedes, which was literally the last car available for rent. Cars are rare and expensive to rent in Cuba, but we insist that it’s the most efficient way of exploring this magical island. Normally we rent cars in Cuba at least 6 month ahead of our planned tours, but late signing up of participants and a change in travel dates had led to this late rental car booking. Our first stop on our tour was Trinidad, a colonial town which needs little introduction.
But we were heading East… and the main Highway connecting the western part of Cuba to the oriental East became empty, we only saw the occasional car, few people travel east of Trinidad.
In the afternoon, we reached Camaguey, where we had a private shoot at the School for Ballet planned for the next morning. After watching the rehearsals we took the dancers for private portrait shoots in a beautiful building beaming of light. An early highlight in an adventurous journey which would take us all around Cuba.
The next morning we drove to Santiago de Cuba, a city close to my heart, it reminds me of Naples in Italy. Nowhere else I made so many friends in Cuba and this time I brought them some prints from my last Cuba round trips. I always love to bring prints back, something tangible to hold.
Santiago de Cuba is often described as the cultural capital of Cuba, and we loved it. There was so much more to come, but for now we could relax, leave the car parked for a few days, go out for walks, explore the local nightlife and do some laundry and get ready for so much more to see.
After several days in Santiago de Cuba, we decided to adjust our plans to accommodate the wish of a participant to visit the town of Hershey where his grandfather used to live (this is exactly my idea of an Adventure Trip!). For this we made a long-haul day drive to Santa Clara.
During our drives, we talked about images, gear, different film stock, and one participant, who is the co-founder of a specialty coffee company taught us all we wanted to know about specialty coffee, their origins and the many ways to brew a cup. There is more to it than I though.
By now, we had discussed the different ways to photograph strangers. The importance of being relaxed while photographing strangers and especially the need to photograph for the right reasons which in return will make you feel relaxed.
While driving across Cuba, we had explained the participants on how to use the Pentax Digital Spot meter for better film exposure, even in tricky lighting situations, in fact we covered all lighting situations one could encounter during the day and the evening. Our car drives were becoming lecture trips while making frequent stops to photograph or to have something to eat.
It was now time for the next step. From a set of daily lighting situations one can encounter, from Bright sunshine to (very dim evening light) participants learned all the different settings, based on B&W ISO 400 film, completely by heart. This is important for those situations where you need to be very quick, or when you simply don’t have a light meter ready.
Everyone practiced and checked the calculated exposure setting with the spot meter. Never being far off, their confidence in shooting film with the correct exposure was growing quickly as we repeated the exposure settings during our journey every day.
We then spoke about the mostly used film stocks and what their characteristics were. Which film needs correct exposure and which ones loved more light.
From the “learned by heart” settings, a quick adjustment was made for each film characteristic and its ISO. We repeated this every day during our long walks and conversations and by the end of the journey, all knew their settings, only to do a quick check with the light meter if we had the time to do so (still the best way).
Love going for a pampering haircut and shave session when I’m in Cuba.
In Santa Clara we visited the Che Guevara Mausoleum after breakfast and went on our road to Hershey.
We managed to find the house of the participants’ grandfather and we were welcomed inside to have a chat about the history. I really loved this day, what else would ever have me made to stop in this town, to take my time to explore it?
After the visit to Hershey we drove 45 min, to one of my favourite beaches close to Havana to relax, to go for a swim and photograph people from Havana enjoying their day off having Fun with Rum at the beach.
Coming from the beach we received a warm welcomed back at our Casa Particular in Havana. Time to relax and head out for dinner. The next morning we explored Regla.
At noon, we packed the car for the last time to spend a few relaxing days with my farmer friends in Vale de Vinales, a region known for growing the tobacco for the world famous Cuban Cigars.
Exploring the valley…
While in Vinales, Ryan held a very insightful and inspirational session about how he doesn’t really pose any of the subjects in his photography and to demonstrate he made images of our participants. Being the subject really drove home his message.
After a beautiful walk and seeing how my friends roast their homegrown coffee beans it was time to head back to Havana for our last evening together.
finishing the roll before heading out to our last dinner…
Next Cuba analog adventure road trip - November 24 (Sun), December 07 (Sat), 2019