The pandemic has virtually stopped all tourism to the island putting those Cubans whose lifeblood comes from travel in a grave situation. There are food shortages, and the government is cracking down on price-gougers and profiteers. As a way to support our @cubaworkshops partners and their families, I’m offering 30+ prints at specially reduced prices (with free shipping) through a gallery that represents my work. 100% of my proceeds from these sales will be donated to help their families through many months. A heartfelt thanks to Kathryn McBride for helping to set-up the page and to make special changes to her gallery’s site in order to make this happen. I know there are other print sale fundraisers, so whether it’s for you or for someone else who might need travel inspiration, I’m grateful for the consideration.
Running a business will bring moments of truth. Mine came without warning after I voluntarily left my job 5 years ago as a staff photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune. A freelance opportunity had come up that seemed too good to be true. It would be years of regular work and position me well as a storyteller in advertising. I felt that I was ready, both creatively and business-wise, after years of freelance work in photography and video and many years on staff at the Tribune and the L.A. Times.
That opportunity was, indeed, too good to be true. In the rough-and-tumble worlds of mergers/acquisitions and advertising, what appeared to be a 3-year opportunity as a visual storyteller vaporized within a matter of months, to both my shock and that of the marketing director. Our carefully laid plans were thrown out the window and I found myself staring into an abyss, having cleared my schedule in preparation for this opportunity.
So where do you go from a moment like that? How do you survive and thrive in an industry of relentless competition where everyone claims to be a “storyteller”?
Join me and other speakers at the ASMP Chicago/Midwest Strictly Business Seminar this as we share our experiences, insights and much inspiration this January. Early bird pricing ends December 26.
I’m not in charge of the seminar, but I can almost guarantee that you will save a lot of money, and make more, by the advice that we give. Truly, I wish I could have shared these tips with my 2014 self. Someone get me a time machine for Christmas;-)
I’m excited to announce that after some review of changing U.S. regulations, Cuba Workshops is cleared to move forward with photography tours to Cuba under the category of Support for the Cuban People in 2020. It is an unexpected lifeline for continuing our tours to Cuba and hopefully will continue into the future. Of course, given the fact that we are heading into a presidential election year with Florida up for grabs, it’s likely the risk of politics could affect your ability to travel to what is rapidly becoming a forbidden island. Our recommendation is not to delay any plans when it comes to this fascinating country.
Both itineraries take us to Havana and the colonial town of Trinidad:
January 24 – 31, 2020
Jaime Permuth joins with me to lead this street-photography oriented tour. Jaime is an internationally-exhibited and award-winning photographer based in New York City who is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and New York University. His i3 Lecture Series has been heralded as an incredible resource of photographic inspiration. A native of Guatemala, he has led workshops to Cuba in the past and will be an outstanding presence for our participants. In addition to three nights in gorgeous Trinidad, a highlight of our tour will be to witness the “Marcha de las Antorchas”, a yearly tribute at the university where students march through the streets of Havana with torches to carry the light of independence hero José Martí.
April 29 – May 6, 2020
Our popular last trip during the International Workers’ Day Celebration on May 1st was an exhilarating experience for all our participants. We will revisit this momentous day in the life of the country, which offers a unique opportunity to understand the country on a person-by-person level. We will have a busy schedule, from bustling Havana to gorgeous Trinidad. Our tours are meant to provide different ways to interact with and support a wide variety of Cubans and their individual needs.
What we uniquely provide are curated experiences for our travelers based on years in the country navigating the often-tough challenges of logistics, bureaucracy, transportation and communication. On past trips we have met and photographed entrepreneurs (“cuentapropistas”) artists, musicians, boxers, ballet dancers, baseball players, farmers, fishermen, bakers and more. This is in addition to meeting the people who own the private homes and private restaurants where we sleep and eat. The trip provides an amazing opportunity to meet and support everyday Cubans and their passionate pursuits, to understand the country in a fun and enriching way and connect meaningfully with the Cuban people. We always try to keep the trips different, adding more unique experiences and finding different groups of people to support and to photograph.
I’m happy to excerpt some wonderfully generous words from previous travelers:
“Alex did an incredible job putting together such a dynamic experience for us to capture. Each day unfolded with new backdrops and scenarios to engage and photograph. My goal as a photographer was to get out of my comfort zone, and document the texture, color and soul. I’m grateful to the Cuba Workshop team for all the behind the scenes planning, day to day mentoring, and access to both curated and spontaneous moments – truly an unforgettable trip.”
– Kerri Sherman, photographer
“This trip taught me confidence in approaching and capturing candid street shots and I walked away with tangible evidence of every crazy and amazing thing I did, which would otherwise have felt like a dream by the end of it. If you’re debating whether or not to take this ride….A personally-guided tour of non-tourist areas in a communist country with a group of passionate artists is a priceless approach for taking your photography skills to the next level.”
– Kat Tushim, art director
“I have been there twice before with Alex Garcia, and expect absolutely nothing but a new adventure around every corner.”
– Michael Kaminski, agency production SVP
“If you are looking for an intimate type of trip to Cuba, this is the trip you want to take. When I came back from Cuba in May, I was was not mentally home for a few weeks, because a 40-year-old dream was realized. Cuba is an extraordinary country with warm beautiful people, stunning colors and a fascinating history and culture. Old Havana will fascinate you! You can walk around the city for hours without being bored. Life on the streets is buzzing. Every street corner is worthy of a photograph. Cuba’s history is a story that is told through its artists, art is anywhere and everywhere. Trinidad with its cobblestone streets and bright colors houses is a visual explosion of color.”
– Barb Pashup, photographer
If you have any interest in one of our trips, please reach out. The deadline for January is in a month or so, and will be here before we know it!
Hope to see you in Havana!
This week I had the opportunity to be on WGN 720AM with Andrea Darlas on her show, “Andrea and the Reporters”, where she interviewed former Tribune photojournalist Nancy Stone, photographer Will Byington and myself on a range of topics regarding our photography. Andrea (center, middle) is such a pro. Have you known someone so nice and so good at what they do that by the time you’re done with something that might stir some anxiety, you’re like, “Wow, that was too easy!”? We talked about storytelling, favorite pictures, why keeping your outtakes is so important, the kindness of strangers, and generally how our careers got started. It was a fun conversation. I hope you can put it on in the background this week sometime and give it a listen.
I’m very excited to announce that I’m launching a photo workshop through a new business, CubaWorkshops.com, this April 27-May 5th! We will visit Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad for 9 days and 8 nights. It’ll be an amazing time as we will be there for the huge May Day gathering in Havana as well as enjoying the sights around the city during the Havana Biennial. We will also head through Cienfuegos to the colonial gem of a town, Trinidad, with its sugar plantation ruins, cobblestone streets and waterfalls.
Our unique trip is in cooperation with Sony, who will provide each participant the option of trying out a camera and two lenses for the 9 day/8 night trip. Free! It’s open for both amateurs and professionals – camera owners of any brand. We will be accompanied by a Sony Pro Support representative who will be there to answer any questions you may have about the Sony gear.
Early-bird pricing will end in a week, so if you’re interested, please check your calendars and sign up through the site. I already have people signing up and I expect this to be a sold-out trip, so don’t delay. I’m limiting the trip to 10 photographers. If you can’t make this one, there’s a newsletter sign-up option as well.
As many of you know, I’ve spent over 20 years going back and forth to Cuba as a student, journalist, tour leader and family member. Creating greater understanding between our two countries is written into my DNA, so this business is an outgrowth of a lot of professional and personal time spent in Cuba. It will be a curated experience for photographers, led by myself and Orietta García, a professional tour guide in Havana and a former producer of one of the country’s most famous musicians.
Please share the word for anyone looking for an adventure!
Thank you so much!
Next month over the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be leading a group to Havana with School of Visual Arts colleague Jaime Permuth for a week long exploration of the capital city and the surrounding area. Our last trip was fantastic. I’ve been going there for years, but I was amazed we were able to photograph things I hadn’t ever seen.
Now that everyone is talking about going to Cuba, the question you might ask is:
Would such a trip be right for you?
I would ask it a different way. If you’ve never been part of a destination photo workshop before, the better question might be:
What kind of a visitor do you want to be?
Your experience could be wildly different from someone else, depending on the answer.
I’ve experienced Cuba in very different ways. I was a family member looking to reconnect. I was in a months-long people-to-people exchange. I was a student in Havana. I worked in a news bureau. I led a New York Times Journeys in which I gave hour-long talks ranging from revolutionary photography to Cuban healthcare. Now I’m leading groups for SVA. So I’ve seen and experienced Cuba in different ways and through the eyes of visitors alongside me.
As a visitor to a country, do you enjoy a little bit of surprise and risk or do you want everything planned out?
Do you seek to “get in there”, or do you keep a safe distance?
Are you seeking creative opportunities or more rigorous intellectual stimulation?
The New York Times Journeys trip I helped lead earlier this year was by most measures rigorously intellectual. Everyone was ushered around to a schedule of speakers in a big, modern air-conditioned tourism bus with a Cuban guide who spoke on many topics. It was a comfortable, safe, experience. Meals were pre-arranged with tables waiting for us when we arrived, facilitating discussions. The group was an older crowd, smart and very well traveled. We had amazing access to officials. The group asked good questions, and were fascinated to know more.
But for some it lacked flexibility and the time to explore on your own, to see and meet people on the street or in their homes. You often heard: “Let’s go! The bus is leaving!”
The SVA trip a few months later was very different. With photography being the priority, it was more experience-driven, rather than intellectually-driven. The SVA goal was to get you seeing, talking with, and photographing the Cuban people in real-life environments. You are in the streets and in people’s homes, making friends and learning the realities of the Cuban experience with your camera.
I have a cousin there who is a producer for commercials and music events, so she draws on her network of contacts to make things happen. Visiting a ballpark and getting access to a dugout (during a game no less) was not originally on our schedule, but for a few participants that’s all they wanted to do. So we made it happen.
One participant on our last trip needed help finding a long lost family member. My cousin and I helped to connect them in the evening and it was awesome. I absolutely related to seeing the family ties that bind.
But perhaps the most instructional moment for me, which also motivates this post, was watching one participant in our exchange jump onto the back of an open-bed truck with a big group of guys to have a photo made.
It was a hilarious moment. Everyone in the truck went wild to have their picture taken with him (it might have helped he was wearing a Yankees cap). You just don’t expect a tourist to climb on the back of a truck and to rev everyone up for a group photo.
As a photojournalist, I’m using to keeping something of a professional distance between the subject and me. (As a group leader, I was afraid the truck would take off, leaving one less student). It’s my fly-on-the-wall orientation.
But my friend blew up that distance and my concerns, showing me something I had forgotten about any cross-cultural exchange.
We’re all mostly looking for moments that bring people together – to forget our differences and the monotony of day-to-day life. If it’s a crazy, unexpected spectacle, all the better. Months later, I still think about that experience and smile at the joy it brought everyone.
Will there be another such spectacle on our November trip?
Who knows, but when it comes to making the most of any trip to Cuba, it’s your readiness to enjoy the unexpected that can make all the difference.
As an independent photographer, little did I realize that you don’t actually have to be on staff at the New York Times to be a guide for a Times Journey. A friend there recommended that I reach out to be one of the “experts” for their educational trips to Cuba. To my delight, based on my background and experience, they accepted. I will be on the Feb 19-27 trip, giving short talks about various topics of Cuba while we make our way to various destinations. I say “our” because you’ll be there, right?
A Times Journey is very cool. The excursion brings you to a locale based on their institutional knowledge and contacts of the location. In Cuba, it’s 9 days and 8 nights. On the link above it takes you through what will likely be the itinerary, day-to-day, in Cuba. I looked through the itinerary and was impressed. I’ve lived in Cuba for some ten months starting since 1995 and was intrigued with some of the places that they’ve arranged.
For example, I don’t know how you could possibly get a tour of Granma, the party newspaper, without an organization like the New York Times arranging that kind of meeting. We’ll also visit the beautiful and eerily prehistoric Viñales Valley, as well as visiting Las Terrazas, a sustainable community in the mountains of Sierra del Rosario and a Unesco‐designated Biosphere Reserve. We will be busy meeting interesting people, including tobacco farmers, a world-class artist, Afro-Cuban dancers, a famous chef, an art historian, gender rights activist, architect and planner. In between we’ll be seeing the colonial architecture, the lush countryside and above all the people. I’ll see if my cousins and uncle can stop by… Once you get a flavor of Cuba, I think you’ll be planning your next trip.
If you’re a photographer, not only will you be getting an education from a New York Times tour, but photo advice from me in a small group setting. It’s not a photo trip per se, but we’ll have lots of time together, as I’ll be with the group throughout the trip, except when people want to go out on their own.
Obviously, above are the plans but they can change since there’s some time between now and then. That’s part of the adventure, right?
If you’re thinking about it, don’t take too much time to decide. The January trip is already sold out. One of my former editors at the Tribune already signed up, and I imagine Cuba is in everyone’s mind to visit, especially during the winter. (I don’t get paid anything for recruiting students, or by how many sign up – I’m only letting you know as a courtesy)
If I can answer any questions, shoot me an email!
You just have to adapt – on any kind of production. In this case, during a ten-day assignment in Nicaragua for Al Jazeera America, our team of four people criss-crossed the country to get ahead of plans to create the Interoceanic Grand Canal, a canal through Nicaragua that has becomes known as the largest engineering project attempted in human history. You can imagine the logistics, the on-the-fly decision-making and the constant cost-benefit analyses that come when you have a limited amount of time but ambitious plans. Many of the places we were traveling to didn’t have strong communication or even an exact place on a map.
On top of that, weather changes. On the day that we were due to travel down the coast of the Caribbean to an indigenous community called Bangkukuk, we were forced to move ahead and sail into the ocean during a small boat advisory. (It was just an advisory, right?) It didn’t look bad from shore, but once we got out onto the open sea, our boat was airborne at certain points because of the huge waves. A writer in the boat was thrown to its floor so we ended up holding onto each other, in part because I was concerned she would simply fly out. The motor putted out, as it became entangled by seaweed. At that point, I was looking for flotation devices to help get us to shore and barked at everyone to get vests on. All my equipment? Surely a casualty. I switched to an iPhone and ended up accidentally taking a picture of me doing an impression of a wet dog. The first image below was taken with my phone, when our first mate was trying to hang on like riding a wild bull. The image led one of the days of the piece.
We survived and of course had a good story to tell. Below are some favorite images from the project, as we sought to tell the stories that mattered – the people whose lives would be potentially affected by the canal. I’ve added images to my main site. It was a five-day series, so if you have some time, please be sure to read about the fascinating project.
All photos ©2015 Alex Garcia