A storyteller with a camera, Cuban photographer Raúl Cañibano’s works are on display locally

by Scott Loftesness on February 20, 2015

Two years ago, I was fortunate to spend a week in Havana, Cuba as part of a photography-oriented people-to-people exchange. We spent seven wonderful days in the heart of Havana — Old Havana and Central Havana.

The best part of my whole experience in Havana was watching and working with several great Cuban photographers who took us out on the streets of the city. We learned by watching these Cuban photographers work, taking us through the neighborhoods — and seeing the things that they saw that we might otherwise overlook.

One of those Cuban photographers was Raúl Cañibano — and, wow, did I especially enjoy watching Raúl work. He led us — slowly — on a very special Sunday morning photo walk in Central Havana. The seven of us in our group will never forget that Sunday morning — walking in the drizzle and rain — walking with Raúl and seeing a bit through his eyes. On our last afternoon in Havana, we went to an Afro-Cuban dance/drum rehearsal, and I was fortunate to be able to catch the image above of Raúl at work.

On the streets, Raúl walked in his own special way, scanning constantly with his eyes while keeping his camera — a Nikon D40 — holstered on his belt. When he saw something, he’d quickly pull up the camera and shoot, not needing to take any time to compose. Raúl was so familiar with his camera and its lens that he could judge the image composition without needing the camera’s viewfinder. Bang! He’d snap the shot, often crouching or stretching to get a special angle or unusual light into the frame.

Chronicles of the City, Blackout, Havana, 2005

We currently have a unique opportunity to see a special exhibition of Raúl’s images now on display through March 11, 2015 at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery at Foothill College. Cañibano’s images in this exhibition tell the tales of everyday Cubans in the city (Chronicles of the City) and in the countryside (Guajira’s Land), and confront the loneliness and abandonment of aging in Cuba (Sunset).

My photo buddy Doug Kaye and I recently visited the exhibition. Doug was with me for that week in Havana two years ago. What struck us about Raúl’s work in this exhibition were these elements:

  • Subjects — multiple subjects — often one of them on the edge of the image. Several of the images actually had three subjects arrayed across the frame. Beautiful storytelling.
  • Always natural light — no flash photography — often he includes shadows as important elements in his compositions which helps orchestrate your eye traveling over the image.
  • Use of reflections — images within images — and unusual juxtapositions, often playing the foreground against the background as two different worlds. Sometimes what’s going on in the foreground is quite unaware of the background or vice versa.

“His images evoke the classic compositions of European and American photographers from the 1930’s, like Walker Evans who also photographed in Havana,” says Ron Herman, Photography Professor at Foothill College and Curator of the exhibition. “Cañibano’s use of interesting framing devices and layering of subjects throughout the picture plane are reminiscent of Josef Koudelka and Sebastião Salgado. Cañibano has the intuition to know when to click the camera at the exact moment when the image elements are perfectly positioned within the frame. It’s as if he adapted Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ to fit the intoxicating chaos of Cuba, where a single small space is often utilized for multiple distinctly different purposes. He captures the apex of multiple stories unfolding simultaneously within the same scene, thereby defining ‘The Decisive Cuban Moment.'”

Guajira's Land, Manati, 1999

Profession Herman will be giving a lunchtime Gallery Talk about the exhibition on Wednesday, March 4, from 12:00 to 1:00 pm at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery. Herman has led a number of photo tours of Cuba and met Raúl on one of his tours several years ago. Their friendship led to this opportunity to showcase Raúl’s work at Foothill College.

For more information on the exhibit please visit: RaulCanibano.wordpress.com. An exhibition catalog is also available for purchase. An earlier book of Raúl’s images titled Raúl Cañibano: PHotoBolsillo is also available on Amazon.com. A few of his images from the current exhibition at Foothill College are included below.

The exhibit is located in the KCI Gallery, on the lower level of the Krause Center for Innovation, Building 4000, at Foothill College 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022. Please park in Lot 4. Parking is $3.00 (quarters or $1 bills only). Disabled parking in Lot 4-B. KCI hours of operation are Monday – Friday: 8:30 am – 6:30 pm; Saturday: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm; Closed Sundays.

Scott Loftesness is an InMenlo co-founder. Photo of Raúl Cañibano © 2013 by Scott Loftesness. Other images © Raúl Cañibano.

Untitled - Guajira's Land, Viñales, 2007

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Deborah Hayes February 21, 2015 at 10:38 am

I traveled with Ron Herman to Havana in 2012 and was blessed to spend a morning on a photo walk with Raul. Your image of him working is lovely. Thank you for the article!
-Deb

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