photo credit: Mary Ellen Kaschub
Foothill photography instructor Ron Herman  calls it "the mystique of Cuba" that had intrigued him for years. Now, through "Cuba: From Inside and Out," a month-long exhibit that opened Monday, others can glimpse what attracted him and 18 campus photographers to the Communist island nation just 90 miles from America's southern tip. In September, Herman, who is honors instructor of the photography department , led 18 Foothill College photographers on a two-week photo tour and cultural exchange.
The time was spent meeting and learning from Cuban photographers—and making images all along the way. The result is the work of the 18 American photographers and 18 Cuban photographers in the show. "Right now, Cuba is at a transitional point," Herman said, "and I believe that Cuba today will look and be very different from Cuba tomorrow."
Fidel Castro, one of the primary leaders of the Cuban Revolution, retired in 2008 and had effectively handed over the reins of power to his younger brother, Raul, two years earlier. Now Raul Castro has started to institute economic reforms, allowing people to acquire electronics, such as DVD players, microwaves, rice cookers and computers. Thus, the timing was right to make this trip more than just an intriguing possibility.
It was organized through the Bay Area-based organization Global Exchange, in conjunction with the planning committee on which exhibit co-curator John Thacker served.
The photographers travelled together to conduct research on the area and meet some of the professional Cuban photographers they'd studied in class. Each photographer found something different that attracted the eye. And each left Cuba with something important to share with those visiting the exhibit. Some wanted to capture the distinct difference between Cuban and American culture; others wanted to explore the beautiful Cuban landscape. "Sounds odd, but chocolate was also a source of inspiration," said Los Altos native Corrine DeBra, who visited "Museo del Chocolate," a chocolate shop and museum in Havana.
One of her three pieces in the exhibit is called "Chocolate Che," which she describes as a "whimsical painting done with melted chocolate of Che Guevara's famous image." Some, like Los Altos-based photographer Cynthia Sun, found images all around her in Cuba. Two—"Grief" and "Tattoo"— are in the exhibit. In trying to describe what it was she found, she said, simply, "There is something beautiful in that place of private feeling." Herman had his own high expectations. "I wanted my photographs to show how personable and approachable the Cuban people are.
On numerous occasions, locals invited me—a stranger—into their home and offered me coffee or some friendly conversation." The two weeks in Cuba had a profound effect on Herman. He plans to take another group of photographers to Cuba in the spring, when he hopes to deliver much-needed photo supplies to the country. "I rarely have a desire to return to a travel destination, because there are so many places and cultures I want to experience," he said.
Cuba, indeed, has a mystique of lasting intrigue. The opening reception for the exhibit will be Thursday, from 5-7 p.m. "Cuba: Inside and Out"  will be on display at the Krause Center for Innovation gallery at Foothill College from now through Dec. 6. For more articles about this exhibit, please visit the "Cuba: Inside and Out" press page .