November 24, 2015

housing: havana, part 6

one of our projects involved a visit to an apartment building known as a solár. soláres are buildings that were owned by a single family before the revolution, that were then taken over by the state and split up into apartments. the state provides the soláres to the residents for free: free of rent and, apparently, largely free of maintenance except for what the residents do themselves.

the solár that we visited, on calle san ignácio, had been owned by a member of the aristocracy, the duque de pinar del rio. the duque’s slaves and servants moved in after the revolution, and their descendants still live there.

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in addition to the soláres, there are regular apartment buildings, also owned by the state. while in the san ignácio building, i met a woman named zoraida who had recently moved out of her apartment because the ceiling had collapsed. she gave me a copy of an inspection notice from the city’s housing agency, dated december 2013, which recommended that the units on the second floor of the building be demolished because they were structurally unsound. the order was later extended to the entire building, but before any work commenced, her bathroom ceiling fell in while her grandchild was in the bath. the baby died, and the remaining 14 (!) members of the family relocated from their two-bedroom apartment to an empty industrial building that they found with their friends’ help.

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kitchen area part of the sleeping area zoraida and two of her children
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zoraida’s daughter shows a photo of the child who died in the roof collapse zoraida’s sewing machine. she works as a tailor zoraida shows an example of her work in a letter to the city asking for help that she wrote prior to the ceiling collapse, zoraida reminded the authorities that she was a revolutionary in obedience to Fidel and Raúl

subsequently, i visited her old building and was invited in by some residents who showed me their apartment and zoraida’s next door.  with my rusty spanish, i couldn’t understand all the details they shared, but i understood two things: they were at pains to say that the state did provide them help in many ways; nonetheless, as regarded their housing, they knew that their building was in bad shape.

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next: cigars!

November 7, 2015

girls and boys, continued: havana, part 5

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 4:41 pm

20151007_cuba_335on an earlier trip to cuba a few years ago, our group leaders met a transvestite called barbara, with whom they developed some kind of a relationship. during this visit, they thought they saw her on the street, and – if i understand the story they told us correctly – their conversation went something like this:

group leaders: “barbara?”
transvestite: “cerveza?

apparently, it wasn’t barbara, but rather a transvestite who called herself yalorde. in short order, thatcher and kirsten arranged with yalorde for us to come photograph her and her friends – in exchange for beer and money – so we could study how to work with natural lighting.

one day before we were scheduled to go to yalorde’s apartment as a group, a few of us went down to check out the lighting and take a few practice shots.

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yalorde (in and then out of the magenta shirt) was the queen bee, and very dramatic, but also very much in charge. raquel (left) and aruaca (right; i can’t vouch for the spelling) were far more quiet. when it came time for the scheduled photo shoot, however, they all “brought it.” tyra banks would have been impressed.

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Granted, it wasn’t always pretty.

after the shoot, we were invited to the drag show, and then it was out to the street to get us cabs. a typical thursday in havana.

next: housing

November 2, 2015

girls and boys: havana, part 4

Filed under: general — Tags: , , , , — cohn17 @ 5:17 pm

20151010_cuba_243if you want to see glamorous girls and stylish boys, you have to visit the tropicana club in havana. the tropicana, opened in 1939, was flashiest cabaret and casino of its day, seating 1,700 patrons and featuring the “sequin and feather” shows that were subsequently copied in paris and las vegas. josephine baker, paul robeson and carmen miranda all played there, and stars like sammie davis, jr., maurice chevalier, and marlon brandon were frequent visitors. the tropicana also was the haunt of famous wiseguys santo trafficante, jr. and meyer lansky, if you know what i mean.

alas, all good things come to an end, at least somewhat: after the revolution, the government closed down the casino and nationalized the property. still, the tropicana continues to operate, and today it caters primarily to tourists.

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what if you want to see glamorous girls in colorful costumes, but you can’t make it to the tropicana? in that case, you can always catch a local drag show. which we did. we couldn’t photograph the performers on stage, but we were allowed into the dressing rooms, and we shot the goings-on beforehand.

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next: how we ended up at a cuban drag show.

October 28, 2015

work and play: havana, part 3

Filed under: general — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 4:10 pm

since raul castro began to liberalize the cuban economy, many people have opened small businesses that they run out of their apartments and the stairwells of their buildings. manicures, bicycle repair, tattoos – all are home businesses in the truest sense.

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of course, the traditional occupations are still well-represented.

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there aren’t many parks in the inner neighborhoods, so sports and games are also very much a localized affair.

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October 22, 2015

up on the roof, down in the street: havana, part 2

Filed under: general — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 9:39 am

diptych 2there is something to be said for seeing a city from above. not only are the views great, but you get to see some action that you don’t see at street level. a photographer i met before i went to cuba told me that the views from the rooftops in havana was great, and that many of the buildings were open to the casual wanderer, so i tried to go up to the top of every building that looked like it had a decent view. most of the time, i couldn’t reach the roof because there was a grill across the staircase leading to the top floor, but a few times i was able to ascend all the way.

in truth, whether i accessed the roof or not, apartment-dwellers generally didn’t seem bothered to have strangers walk into their buildings, climb the stairs, and ask the way to the roof. one woman, in fact, sent her daughter to show us the way up. on the other hand, another woman, whose apartment had the sole access to the roof, charged me 5 cuc (cuban convertible pesos) to go out onto her balcony, but she also had the best view in the city. i considered offering to bring the rest of my group up in exchange for a 10 percent commission, but i never got around to it.

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of course, life at street level is pretty interesting, too, day and night. games, sports, shopping, car repair, and socializing.  the occasional solicitation, too, of course, but that’s not something i caught on pixels.

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more to come.

October 20, 2015

havana, part 1

Filed under: photography, travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 7:03 pm

diptych1recently, i visited cuba with a group of photographers. with more than 3,000 photos to review, it will take me a while to complete my blog posts on this trip, and longer if i want to actually write something perceptive about the experience …

the travel restrictions are still in place, so we were there on a general religious license, which required us to visit churches and charities as part of our activities. i was eager to go, because i wanted to see cuba before the travel restrictions are lifted and planeloads of american tourists overrun the island. this seems to be a common theme, as this article notes: “we want to see the island before we ourselves can get there to ruin it.”

there already is a flourishing tourist industry in havana, however, catering to the rest of the world (as well as to the americans who have been willing all along to visit the country illegally; the cubans won’t stamp your passport if you don’t want them to). our group leaders, who had been to cuba a few years earlier, noted how many more private rental rooms, restaurants, and small businesses – for instance, people selling coffee out of their apartments – there now were as a result of the reforms that raul castro put into place since becoming president.

first, let’s get the clichés out of the way. even though there are new or relatively new cars on the road, there still are lots of the 1950s american automobiles in service. many, but not all of them, have been spruced up and restored to serve as expensive tourist taxis (presumably through money sent by family in the states – everyone seems to have a brother in miami).

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similar changes are visible in the architecture. the capitol building (in the first photo above) is undergoing renovation, as are many of the buildings in the center that will cater to tourists. in comparison – as i’ll describe in a later blog posting – the buildings housing ordinary cubans are still pretty decrepit.

there seems to be a clear divide between the havana that serves tourists, and the havana that doesn’t. walking just a little off the main tourist drag, one can see  plenty of reminders that la revolución sigue – the revolution continues – despite the onslaught of capitalism.

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nonetheless, it’s clear that the u.s. is very popular among la gente. a priest we met told us that, prior to the revolution, cubans thought of themselves as spanish or (u.s.) american. it was the castro government that tried to reoriente cuba alongside the downtrodden countries of latin america and against the northern capitalists. however, it doesn’t seem to have fully worked. every day, at least two different people stopped me on the street to ask me where i was from and to engage in conversation. although sometimes it was just to tout a local restaurant, more often it was to talk about u.s.-cuban relations and to praise obama. and the explosion of small-scale private enterprise is a strong indicator of the direction the country would go if given the chance.

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there is a great deal more to show and say, so stay tuned.

September 28, 2015

supermoon 2015

Filed under: general — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 12:39 pm

last year around this time, we watched the supermoon rise over the acropolis. this year, we got up at 3 AM to see the blood moon/lunar eclipse over our house. unfortunately, after weeks of clear skies, the clouds had started rolling in over the weekend, and when we got up, the moon was completely obscured by clouds. around an hour later, the skies miraculously opened so we could see the eclipse begin; right before the climax, however, the clouds came back in force, and the show was over.

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September 5, 2015

mykonos: light

Filed under: general — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 11:00 am

the summer light in mykonos is brilliant, with a strength and clarity that i have never seen anywhere else, particularly when it reflects off the white lime surfaces of the buildings there. it’s hard for me to find the words to describe it; it’s like some sort of visual umami.

many families in mykonos have built small chapels adjacent to their homes or in nearby fields, to commemorate the passing of a loved one. the combination of white church, blue sky, and mykonos lighting is hard to resist.

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September 4, 2015

mykonos: windmills

Filed under: greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 11:00 am

in the 16th century, the venetians, who occupied mykonos for approximately 300 years, built windmills on the island to mill wheat. mykonos is sometimes referred to as “the island of wind.” given the number of times i had to chase my hat across the parking lot, i can attest to the accuracy of that.

lately, i am a fan of the “one camera, one lens” philosophy, which means no wide angle or zoom lenses. this makes getting all of the windmills into one shot very difficult; hence, i had to go for a more “artistic” approach.

windmills at sunset:

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and at sunrise:

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next: light

September 3, 2015


Filed under: greece — Tags: — cohn17 @ 12:08 pm

eventually, we were going to get to mykonos, a blue-and-white symphony of light, as well as a shopping and clubbing mecca.

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next: windmills.

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