The Sacred Land of Photography

(Photographing Cuba).

Throughout the history of humanity there have been places where people converge in search of inspiration, creativity and a sense of thought. In ancient times, these places were referred to as sacred lands; starting points for all kinds of religions and cultures, but over time these places of “power” have evolved and have taken form in much more personal spaces, less related to mysticism and more related to home, family or friends.

The sacred ground is that center or starting point where there is a kind of mystical energy that allows you to “regroup” to take a breath and allow the mind to be freed of external impulses and pressures.

As a photographer, I have traveled a fair amount and have had the opportunity to document the world from a different perspective, and as a person, there are places that I have connected to at a deeper level than others. Cuba, however, is a place that falls into a whole other league. It is one of those places where inspiration, light, creativity converge in each ray of light that bathes the island and invites you to focus on a single purpose, to experience the act of photographing.

This almost mystical energy has attracted many of the great masters of photography over time and for good reason. It is a country anchored in the past, with incomparable visual and emotional potential, and yet, capturing its unique essence is not always an easy task, or rather, not an easy task without falling into clichés.

In this article I am going to talk about how to allow yourself to get absorbed by this sacred land of photography and capture, with your own gaze, one of the most photogenic countries on the planet.

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”

David Alan Harvey

As you have probably noticed for my introduction, the technical aspects such as ISO, the size of the sensor or the type of camera is not the main issue when it comes to photographing “sacred lands”, the important thing is to explore, explore life and oneself and explain that experience through your photography.

How? Read on to find out!

© Jorge Delgado-Ureña

Tierra sagrada
Live the experience.

Talk to people, listen their stories, watch the street and forget about preconceived ideas, let yourself be carried away by light, colors and the heat of the moment.

Do not look at the screen, look at what’s going on around you.

In the digital age has given us immediacy and in photography this means that often, after each photo that we take, we preview the shot on the screens of our cameras. Don’t get me wrong, it’s practical; it helps us make sure that we are exposing correctly and we can check that the focus is where it should be, but when we look at the screen continuously, we loose sight of our surroundings and miss out on the experience in its self. It’s like when you go to the cinema to watch a movie, if you go to the bathroom during the movie, when you return, even if it’s been for a short time, the meaning of the story may have changed drastically.

© Jorge Delgado-Ureña

Tierra sagrada
Focus and compose.

Composition is the language that helps tell the story, it provides you with the opportunity to express yourself in a complex and dynamic way or simple uncover scenes that otherwise would go unnoticed. And focus: Cuba is a place with infinite photographic possibilities, so it’s easy to get distracted or feel the need to capture everything that is going on around you. The best thing is to stick to one scene and get it right before moving on to the next.

© Christelle Enquist

tierra sagrada
Find something different.

As we have already said, Cuba is one of the most photogenic countries in the world, and therefore also one of the most photographed. This also means that it’s not always easy to find a new story to tell, but it is not impossible. Applying the previous points will make finding your unique story that much easier.

For example, on my last trip to Cuba while waiting for a ferry to Regla (a borough on the other side of the Havana bay) a man told me the story of how back in 2003 one of the ferries was hijacked by a group of Cubans who wanted to flee to Miami. The little boat, of a maximum speed of 2km/h, didn’t get very far before the men were caught. A fascinating story and like this one, there are many others awaiting to be discovered if you pay attention and take the time to listen.

Cuba is a fascinating country, full of personal stories and history in general. As David Alan Harvey puts it, in Cuba it is easy to feel like one of those intrepid National Geographic photographers of the 50s who were welcomed everywhere and documented, with their cameras, the hidden wonders of the most photogenic and interesting corners of the world.

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