Rad A. Drew Photography: Photographer Bob McCaffrey Guest Blog Post

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Photographer Bob McCaffrey Guest Blog Post

The Capitol in Havana
© Bob McCaffrey
Editors note:
Photographers Bob and Cindy McCaffrey have been friends for a few years now. This past February, before Covid-19 grounded everyone, they joined Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista, and me, on a trip to Cuba that include time in Havana and several days in the Vinales Valley farm region. Bob's article and images below first appeared in the The Reflector, the newsletter of the Delaware Photographic Society, one of the nation's oldest, most respected camera clubs. It is reprinted here with permission. 

Enjoy Bob's article! – Rad

Riviera Hotel, Havana
© Bob McCaffrey

Impressions of Cuba

Words and Images by Bob McCaffery

Cuba is a land of contrasts. Rich vs. poor, prosperity vs. poverty, new vs. old, modern vs. antiquated. Cuba exists in three centuries, 19th, 20th, and a little of the 21st.

Havana at Night
© Bob McCaffrey

In early February, we had the opportunity to spend a week in Cuba with photographer, Rad Drew (who recently did a workshop and program for DPS), along with superb Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista. Our itinerary allowed us some time in Havana, and a few days in the rural farming region of the Vinales Valley. 

1948 Dodge and Proud Owner
© Bob McCaffrey

Upon arrival, from our hotel in old Havana, we were able to walk to the Cuban Capitol building. This splendid building was in close proximity to a new Grand Hotel, and a crumbling old apartment building. The contrast was glaring. The old American cars from the 1950’s and early 1960’s were very much in evidence, along with a lot of modern vehicles, most notably from Hyundai and Kia. Most of the old vehicles have now been purchased by companies who now operate them as taxis. For the most part they are well maintained and brightly painted. Few have their original engines. However, it does speak well of the skill of Cuban mechanics.

Guarding the Harbor Entrance, Havana
© Bob McCaffrey
Our four story hotel, while small, was clean and well maintained with modern amenities. In the center was a small courtyard, open to the sky. This did cause complications on one afternoon when a strong storm moved through. There was much mopping and cleaning required. By contrast the building next to the hotel (attached) appeared unmaintained, and in a state of decay.

Laundry Day
© Bob McCaffrey
In general, Cubans in Havana and elsewhere, were very friendly and open to us Americans. The drivers of the vintage cars were anxious to show off their beautiful machines – and to offer rides and provide photo ops sitting in the car (for a small fee of course).

Ballerinas in Old Theatre
© Bob McCaffrey

Early morning walks afforded the opportunity to photograph neighborhoods just starting the day, and the waves hitting the Malecón (waterfront). 

Ballet Shoes
© Bob McCaffrey
It was also arranged for us to photograph Cuban ballerinas in an old mansion (in need of some maintenance) and in an old abandoned theatre (practically falling down) after rain cancelled the outdoor shoot.

Balerina and Tiles© Bob McCaffrey

Leaving Havana, driving West toward Viñales, one passes an area of magnificent homes, some of which are well maintained and landscaped, while others have fallen into disrepair. More contrasts.

Harvesting Tobacco
© Bob McCaffrey
Continuing on to Viñales, we stopped to photograph a tobacco farmer in his field, and another farmer plowing a field with a hand plow pulled by a team of two oxen. Ramses was very adept at securing permission from our subjects to pose for photographs.

Traditional Plowing
© Bob McCaffrey
Our accommodations just outside of Viñales were reasonably comfortable, however the rooster outside the window that began crowing around 4:30 AM was a bit annoying.

The Morning Procession in Vinales
© Bob McCaffrey
The main street of the town is several blocks long, and is lined with multiple restaurants, all of which seem to do a good business. The food was tasty, and service was friendly. It helps if you like plantain in various forms.

Carrying Sticks
© Bob McCaffrey

An early morning sunrise walk along the road into town was quite interesting as it was filled with people going to work and school. Virtually every means of transportation was used. There were people walking, bicycling, in old crowded small buses, on motorcycles, riding in a trailer behind a tractor, riding in vintage cars, crammed into the bed of a truck, riding in a horse cart and anything else that moved. People were friendly and waved as we photographed them on their way.

Proud Tobacco Farmer
© Bob McCaffrey
We spent our days in the area touring farms, stopping to photograph farmers working in their fields and other interesting people along the way. 

1939 Cadillac at the Beach
© Bob McCaffrey

We ventured to the beach area of Cayo Jutías where we photographed an old lighthouse tower, had a delicious seafood lunch at an open-air restaurant, and photographed some of the vintage cars under the beachside palm trees. The road out to the Cayo consisted of far more potholes than road surface, yet many endured it to enjoy the beautiful beach and ocean.

Sorting the Tobacco
© Bob McCaffrey
Another day saw us on horseback to visit a tobacco farm up in the hills, observe the sorting of leaves and learning how to hand roll a Cuban cigar. We also visited a family living off the land in the hills - a father and his sons. The matriarch had recently passed and the father was in obvious emotional distress.

© Bob McCaffrey
Returning to Havana we stayed in an apartment west of Old Havana, enjoyed one of the finer restaurants and visited historic hotels, and finally a ride in 1950’s cars to a seaside restaurant for a farewell dinner.

Sweeping the Prado at Dawn
© Bob McCaffrey
Cuba is a fascinating destination, but one that brings sadness to see the conditions that a large portion of the population endures. But it is uplifting to see how people manage with what they have and still smile and laugh. The opportunities for the photographer are virtually unlimited, but it certainly pays to have a knowledgable guide.

Bob McCaffrey

Bob started taking pictures when his grandmother gave him a “Dick Tracey” Camera for his 6th birthday. He later moved up to a baby Brownie and began developing and printing in black and white when he was about 8. Having a father with a darkroom helped.

As he grew older, he used his father’s Kodak 35 (with a pop bottle lens) then borrowed a Kodak Signet 35 (with an excellent lens) from his uncle when he was in high school. His uncle never got it back. In Bob’s senior year he was student photographer for the yearbook.

He continued photography as a hobby through college and received a Ricoh 35mm SLR as a graduation present. He later moved on to Nikon equipment.

Bob continued to enjoy photography throughout his professional career in the railroad supply industry and while raising a family with his wife, Cindy, also a photographer. He shot color slides and continued to enjoy black and white film photography. In 2006 he made the switch to digital and hasn’t looked back. Bob joined the Delaware Photographic Society in 2009 and has served in various capacities including president.

Bob travels extensively and has done numerous workshops with Rad and others.