In the film Cañibano recalls his journey into photography.
As a young man, he worked as a welder, but a chance meeting with a professional photographer sparked his interest. Making a career in photography didn’t occur to him, however, until he saw Alfredo Sarabia’s surrealistic photos in 1989, when Cañibano was 28. Cañibano wanted to do the same kind of work, but with people in the streets as his subject matter. Within a few days of the Sarabia exhibition, he traded in his blowtorch for a camera and started his journey.
The journey was not always smooth, as the fall of the Soviet Union meant that photographic materials were scarce or nonexistent in Cuba. Cañibano found that he had to make much more than photographs: “I learned to prepare my own chemicals to develop negatives and to print photos,” he says. “I used to make my own D-76 and photographic paper.”
Herman’s Cuba workshop participants have their own observations, not only of Cañibano’s photographs and his techniques but of the Cuban people.
“He very much was always watching,” comments photographer Mary Bender, “and he had a … not sneaky … but he was fairly furtive, and he taught us that. He said, ‘Now look; you don’t want to be right in their face, because then instantly you’ll lose the moment.’” “Most people are probably looking through the lens,” says Kathryn Bazak, “but he’s not. He was walking around and just looking, but while he was looking he was shooting.” “He knew just the reflexive angle to turn the camera so he could get exactly what he wanted, and no one would know he ever took the picture,” says Bender.
Herman comments on Cañibano’s uncanny ability to capture stories in his photos, sometimes even multiple stories in one photo. He loves “the mystery of this image [below]. You have the older man in the foreground, you have the shadowy figure, but that shadowy figure, what does that symbolize? This thing from beyond. The mysterious quality of that hand … lends itself to multiple ways to interpret the story.”
“It wasn’t quite third world,” says Gabrielle Rondell, who visited Cuba on one of Herman’s trips, but people “were extremely resourceful.” “It’s all by trade,” says photographer Bob Hills about three Cuban men he saw fixing a car. “If you need a carburetor or a starter, you have to find somebody who has a carburetor or a starter and figure out what he needs. Does he need cinder blocks? Or cement?”
But all of the participants praise the hospitality and friendliness of the Cuban people. As Herman says, “They make the best out of the situation. They’re happy people.”
And what’s next for Cuba and Cañibano? “I end the show with this photograph [below],” says Herman, “And I like the idea of this older woman staring out into the light. And particularly at this time in the history of the relations with Cuba, I don’t think anyone knows, if the Cubans know or if we know, what’s going to be happening for them and their future … and what’s beyond.”
The film includes Cañibano’s photographs from the countryside and from the city as well as from his “Sunset” series of photographs of aged people.
Photography professor Ron Herman loves the mystery of this image. "You have the older man in the foreground, you have the shadowy figure, but that shadowy figure, what does that symbolize?"
A photograph from Cañibano's most recent work about people who are aging