Friday, January 2, 2015

Avant Gardens I: Cuba's Organopónicos

During my Semester at Sea, one of the primary projects I worked on in port was rebooting my series of photographs of community and urban gardens, which I call Post-Industrial Edens.   I'm going to break my posts on these photos into two parts, the first on Cuba's organopónicos and, coming soon, a post on Europe's allotment gardens.

Cuba has a particularly fascinating slow food movement.  At the heart of this is what are called organopónicos.  These are organic gardens that developed in response to the collapse of the USSR and with it, the financial aid, machine parts, and fertilizers disappearing from Cuba.  In part due to the isolation caused by the US Embargo, finding alternative sources wasn't easy.  When mechanized farming collapsed in the early 1990's, Cuba went through a period called the "Special Period."  Organopónicos are just one of the creative solutions that developed during the special period.  I've got more details on the history of these gardens here.  

I photographed the gardens back in 2006 and again in 2007.  But after that I took a seven year break from Cuba, which is a pity because that gardens are so interesting and gorgeous.  It was great to go back and photograph them again (and see old friends) after so much time away.  And it left me craving a more substantial trip to the island.  

Still, it was an incredibly productive four days.  The gardens are still going strong, though I've changed quite a bit as a photographer since then... photographing things that I would've probably thought of as 'too picturesque' last time I was in Cuba.  

The gardens provide a playground for formally constructing a picture. A lot of the photographs I took in Cuba used classic perspective...  But balancing that perspective with little gems within the frame: plants, planters, and classic automobiles, in this case: 

I put another classic car in this shot, though the gardener has quite a different attitude.  Actually, he was in the process of restoring the car... I love the poster of Raúl in the foreground.  The two small posters above the car are similar, one with Fidel and the other with Che.  I love all the machismo in this garden:

But not this one...  A blustery afternoon, with a little calf:

Below, the "Area de Lombricultura" in this picture is for propagating worms...  With all the banana trees around it, it seems a bit like worm paradise to me.

I call this image 'the cleansing pool' and it seems like another little slice of paradise in an organopónico:

Each organopónico is required to grow a certain quota of food.  But beyond that quota, the gardeners sell the extra out of little windows like this one:

Or this one... not sure which makes me smile, the incredible tree trunk or the incredible advertising:

Another image with scatter and perspective, inspired by John McKee

Harvest time...  And maybe I need to tone down my greens a bit, they weren't quite this dayglo, but they were really bright:

The garden below was actually on a military base, that somehow I got permission to photograph...  I think I might be one of the few American citizens to have been welcomed onto a Cuban military base.  It was amazing to see the young guys spending their time in service growing vegetables. Unfortunately they weren't willing to be photographed:

I like this one too:

But I'm not sure about these two, I need to spend a bit more time thinking about their context:

More gardens coming soon, next time from Europe!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Medium Format Madness

Well, I originally brought my Hasselblad along on my Semester at Sea trip to start a new photographic project during out time in Ghana.  But alas, the Ghana portion of our trip was cancelled, due to ebola.  So rather than a focused project, I ended up using the camera more sporadically and freely, much like when I was first falling for photography while traveling with my Rolleiflex back in 2003-2004.  I think I ended up getting some pretty solid shots with the 'Blad too...  But I'll let you be the judge of that.

It's always good to begin with a hook, or so I'm told.  And so I'll start this blog with some photos of the men dressed as goats that I hung out with in Morocco.  We drank mint tea while they smoked cigarettes and explained this custom to me...

They dress up in these elaborate costumes as part of Eid al-Adha, a festival commemorating Abraham's sacrifice.  According to the story, Abraham's original plan was to sacrifice his son, but God changed the plan at the last minute and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead.

So now, in a display of amazing athleticism, guys dressed in goat outfits chase the local children across mountain tops.  It was a bit surreal, and an absolute joy, to watch.  Here, you can see the kids taunting one of the goat men from above...

Plus, they were really nice guys to hang out with, despite the smell that stuck to them after running around all day in untanned goat hides:

Most of the time, Moroccan Berbers dress a bit differently...  Like this gentleman:

I love how he has a collared shirt under his more traditional garb; that said, I wish I remembered how narrow the DoF is on an 80mm lens at f2.8!  That's part of the problem with switching cameras too damn often!!

Another portrait I'm proud of, where the narrow DoF worked in my favor, as did an Irish law requiring certain dog breeds to wear muzzles:

This passage is called a "hollow way."  It is in the southwest of the UK and was used by smugglers back in the day.  Now it's lush and overgrown and gorgeous...

This was the most lush and overgrown restroom I've ever been in:

I've taken a lot of photos of animals in landscapes over the past few months...  Guinea fowl with chicks in the VA landscape:

Chicken and walnut tree, Imlil, Morocco...

Three Birds, in Barbados:

Gaudí and a Rock Dove:

But sometimes landscapes without birds work too, like Ellie's garden in Axminster:

And this pic along the coast of the UK:

What happens when there are three paths and they're in a green field?!

A very old very hollow tree, held together by a metal girdle:  

A little explosion of water in Barbados:

Gdansk, Poland is a lovely place:

Rocks and water:

I probably need to edit this photo a bit more, from a park in Spain, and I will too, once my computer starts working again...

He was looking at something profound, I think:

Nice still life in the mountains:

Another Gaudí moment, of people experiencing his park:

Folks on Semester at Sea are internet deprived, so when we're close to Wi-Fi, scenes like this ensue:


Follow me:

A lost coastline:

Near the Stonehenge:

Old tree:

I suppose some of my photos from the bald are potential additions to my Tertiary Objects project...  Like these:

This image is of an invasive species, with its tendrils consuming the forest edge:

Two tired friends:

I also managed to develop some 35mm film from our honeymoon...

Now I need to get back to my scanned and start working through all my garden photos  from my Semester at Sea, but first I am going to enjoy the holiday, and so should you!