Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Taking Someone's Last Photograph

I recently read a blog post from another photographer that  spoke of his experience taking the photograph of an actor who had just found out his father had passed. It was a very powerful read and if you would like to read it, click  here.

So this brings me to a similar topic. There have been two moments in my life where I realized I was taking the “last photos” of a person. The last images that visually proved their existence. One happened a couple years back and I had this realization just before the shoot and the other happened last summer in Cuba and my realization of me being  the person’s last photographer came a few weeks ago when I heard they had passed away.

I'll tell you about the second instance.


So as some of you may know, I was born in Cuba. More specifically, La Habana. When I was born, I lived in The Capital for about a year but then moved to Sancti Spiritus with my mom and her family  after my dad had left on a raft to the U.S. (which leads to me being here, now a 16 year US citizen). 

When I lived in Sancti Spiritus  there were many people that took care of me, as some say, "it takes a village," which in this case it did. I was a handful for sure, but not in a bad way...I hope. Anyway, one of the villagers in this community of care takers was my babysitter Pura. She was the neighborhood babysitter of sorts: she would take care of children from around the neighborhood. I even had a close friend that I grew up with, recently  arrived from Cuba  who was also taken care  of by Pura when I was living there.

Pura was an old lady  even back then, but with her loving husband and her daughter she ran an awesome daycare.

Last Summer

So last summer I visited Cuba for my 5th time, but it was my first as an adult, and most importantly to this post, as a photographer. My main focus for this trip wasn't really to see family, it was on documenting the country where I was born with my eyes and my camera. I wanted to give my self some cultural definition regarding who I truly am, Cuban or American (I know now). 

During the entire trip, I had my camera, for every moment, every breath. 

Except for one.

When I went to visit Pura, we found her bedridden – she had fallen a couple months before and had broken her hip and due to her advanced age, she was not able to recover quickly. In the U.S., you would immediately go into surgery and, well, have a repaired hip. But due to the low amount of resources, Pura was not able to get her hip surgery. So she was literally perishing on her bed.

It was a huge shock to see my Pura in such a state. I say, "my Pura," because that's the only way I could describe how I thought of her when I saw her. I couldn't stop staring at her, I didn't want to because inside I honestly felt this would be the last time I saw her, and, unfortunately, I was right.

I had such a strong mixture of different emotions ranging from complete sadness,  to anger,  all accompanied with the strong desire to act. Which brings me to something I had mentioned previously: this was the one time I did not have my camera.

For the first time in my life, I was in a situation where all my photo-journalistic (to give it a name) senses where firing off...and I was camera-less. “Fuck me” was the only thing I could think of in that second.

But thank God I had my cellphone. And so, with the intent of capturing the last moments with Pura, I took these images.

After taking these images I sat down on the bed across from her own (where her husband sleeps) and just looked at the pictures. To see her on the screen of my phone almost made me cry because I realized that this really could mean the last time I would see her, the last memories of her. These pictures meant everything to me at that point, these pictures held similar weight as the first instance I had encountered taking someone's last photograph, but this time it was a "family" member.

Nothing in the world mattered to me more than getting at least one photograph that would accompany the image I will always hold in my heart of her. The images of her taking care of me as a small child along with the memories of her colorful backyard covered in banana trees and chicken pens  were "photographs" she gave me to remember her by. And I hope to use these images as the "photographs" to share with the world that represents a lady who was Pure.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Great Misconceptions!!!



It's easy, and yet it's hard.

What do I mean?

Well, it's now been about 5 years since I first picked up a camera for reasons other than taking a random family picture. When I first started I didn't think it would become what it is now: a tremendous part of my life. I became obsessed with it from the get-go. I spent months and months (literally an entire summer) studying photography, nonstop, for more than 15 hours a day. Studying meant going outside and taking a couple hundred pictures after having spent 10 or more hours studying techniques and theory and other such stuff online. I remember several instances where I would stay up 2 entire days studying feverishly. As a close friend recently told me, "You were in flow" (as psychologists say). I guess it's true since I never felt tired: I always went to bed afterwards and wouldn't fall asleep until 1 or 2 hours of photography theory had finished running through my head. But, really never did stop running around in that noggin.

And that was the easy part, but only because I liked it. I did it because I had no other choice, both as a high school kid during summer vacation, and as a photography sounds kind of weird to me being serious when I say that.

Oh whatever, it's me.

Hard money...

So the hard part was mainly made up of two things (that are strongly tied together): money and being self taught. More specifically, I'm referring to lack of money and lack of an official art environment full with resources. Photography is EXTREMELY (I repeat) EXTREMELY expensive. I've calculated that, in total, I spent about $1,500 within the first 2 years without a single dollar being made back. And $1,500 is on the cheap end of things, considering my camera (the one I still use) is only an entry level professional camera. The body alone, without a lens, was $800 at the time.

Once I started doing some gigs people would mostly say, "Oh, since you're new, will you do it for free? Assuming payment would be the experience," and obviously (to me at least), I would be excited to just do more photos, so I would either do everything for free, or maybe make $50 for what I would now charge $800 worth of work (I'm not trying to show you how greedy-which I'm not ;D). This just goes to show how much work I did for free in order to gain experience, and help friends out.

Anyways, I'm glad I did do all those things for free, as I learned a tremendous amount from each experience that I pushed myself into, but obviously it was difficult since I didn't have a car (my parents had to spend money on gas, which I felt bad about), and once a couple of years passed it felt like people still asked for free work, acting as if they thought photography wasn't expensive (and sometimes I still do free work, but life is getting real these days, so I need real non-monopoly money). And yeah, that reminds me, photography is EXPENSIVE (3rd time's the charm!) and a lot of people asking for me to do their photos don't realize that.

.........and a long flat path

The long flat path mainly has to do with having started photography and having decided to remain self taught; school had started up again and was taking up most of my time, I also didn't have money for photography classes. During the first few years (3-4 to be more precise) I was like a boy-with-a-camera in an egg that would just not want to crack and allow the world to see me. Like being under a cellar-door that won't open when a bad guy (or lady) is coming after you......about to stab you with a knife so ghetto you feel like shitting your pants just looking at it. 

Back on course-
Since I wasn't "good enough" to actually merit any attention from people other than my parents and some friends, I felt like my progression, which really was big (other people said it...not me) was not being acknowledged,
like Gosh! give the man some credit, YEARS of Hikikamori style studying, can someone give me at least one clap?

 *cricket sounds*

This lack of acknowledgement mainly showed itself when I first started publishing my work online and not many people would react to it (actually almost no one...except my best friend (fist-bump best friend))***. Many times I felt like not even posting anymore and deleting the social networks, especially dA (which I don't use anymore since it's now the mecca (not talking about Saudi Arabia) of hentai and porn and most legit work is drowned by cartoon character porn and people trying to be cartoon characters, while doing porn (can you do porn? or ARE you porn? DAMMIT DIGRESSION!).

***(correction) best friend(s)...I don't need anymore hate mail.

Anyways (again), as time passed, I started getting more attention from the public [yay!], but then I came to realize there are different types of public...("what the hell does that mean?," you ask?) Well there's the public that consists of regular citizens which has subgroups that are made up by buyers, and loiterers non-buyers....Then there's the public of Art (specifically photography; the **art world** of photography [very shiny]) which is the public I am now starting to dip my toes in.

For the last 5 years I've been COMPLETELY focused on the first type of public (loiters people and buyers...well, maybe 1-2). It wasn't a mistake to do so; I found MANY amazing people in the non-art community, but the main focus of this long sentence is the second thing I mentioned WAAAAAY at the beginning (talking about being self taught, and its difficulty). Being self taught meant I never took a legitate art/photography course. This means I never dipped my toes (as I am doing now, currently, this moment, ahora) into the art community. I'd describe my life as a photographer, before starting my path into art, is like me being a cat that acts like a cat for the sake of the humans, but doesn't even pay attention to the fact it is a part of the greater cat community/catmanity (no, not a cat/manatee) missing out on the nice fish bones around the sad. 

/////Btw crazy story, I just saw my neighborhood cat eat a squirrel....shiz B cray-cray./////

So as a lonely cat (with a camera). I did not realize my brethren and sistren cats where the bees-knees (incorporating lots of animals today) and that I should have started focusing on them as well. Like a cat in a room filling up with water with the only way out being the open window on the other side of the room, I realized I was screwed...unless I jumped in.

So I jumped in...

....and things started to change.

It turned out that being trapped in that hikikamori-like egg shell (with a camera) for so long while spending money on building a website, printing stuff, and doing a ton of free portfolio-building work was actually a blessing in disguise. How?

Well, for one, having decided to not post-process ANY of my pictures from the moment I started photography actually forced me to work EXTREMELY hard on everything I did. I wanted to get good, fast...very fast, which explains the Japanese lock-self-in-room style of living (pretty much the definition of Hikikomori, if you were too lazy to look it jerk).
But because of that ridiculous addiction to learning photography very quickly, it now looks like the giant swamp monster that lives in the "Art Public" swamp is not letting me simply dip my toes in the water, it wants to suck me in...which obviously has me a bit nervous. But since I have built a strong support system (having focused on the "Regular Citizens" public in the early years) I feel like there's a ladder next to me which will help me ease my descent into the (swampy) arts-side.

***sorry, I pull these things metaphors out of my butt; they stink, don't they? (leave a comment and let me know how much you hate them...or love them)***

Well, after having spent that $1,500 in the first 2 years I decided to make a website in my 3rd year costing $30 a month, make several prints of my photos, and throw money in the yard (#moneytree), which I'm guessing put me in (imaginary) debt at about $2,300 (which happens to be the amount I'm paying for my new lens in a few days) But because I had a website (very nice one) and prints to show off my work I was recruited by a museum in Cuba to do an exhibit this coming summer. AND.....well other stuff which I can't say now since it ain't solid. But it's big...real big. When I know what's going on, for sure, I'll lay it on you like a nice warm turd. #neversorry.

The money I've spent over the years is progressively being made back with jobs I've done for the Bucs (The Tampa Bay Bucs) and some other major gigs. It took a LONG time (felt like it at least) but now things are working out...and it feels like I'm now walking on a sandbar (a moist sand bar) waiting to be fully immersed by that Swamp Monster. 

My point is that there is no point I just wanted to talk....see ya


Just kidding :P heehee

Anyways, my point is that I'm starting to feel really good about my work, after a long time of feeling like a cat with no other cats to support me; I had humans there giving me pats on the back, maybe some tuna on payday, but I didn't really have another cat to show me around the corner and guide me to the fish bones. BUT, because of that, I worked so hard knowing that every picture I took and every hour I spent studying represented a small piece of wall being chipped away the Great Wall of China between me and some tasty fish bones. 

So, now that you read all of that, I will summarize it in a few words (because I'm actually the swamp monster, didn't see that coming, huh?....actually, me neither)

In summary, shiz be gettin' cray-cray.

Love ya.

Ravimi Photography. 

P.S. show sum love by sharing, commenting, and liking this long, time-wasting will mean a lot to a little cat like me.

Also, I may start writing a lot more often...maybe once a month (compared to once in 1 year). So if I do...I'll see you next time.