Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish

Looks like Weekly Photo Challenges are the main contribution I manage to make for this blog during this period of my exciting work life, but so it be. Something little often goes a long way, and the pictures I am usually using for these challenges are coming from my trips, – so one more memory knot is one more sip of happiness.

The topic of this week is Wish. Wishes and dreams are very important for me. There were certainly times in my life when wishes and dreams were all that I had. First steps in every of the nine countries I lived, the job searching period in the end of my MBA studies (with my European residence permit expiring), the first time I held a DSLR camera in my hands. Looking back, I don’t think about these experiences as challenging times but as happy moments, when the future I wanted was so crisp in my mind it seemed I could reach out to it and dissolve in this perfect picture. From these experiences I grew to appreciate wishes and dreams of the others.


One of the reincarnations of Che’s photograph by Alberto Korda: probably, one of the most printed photos of all times

Such as the dream of Che, the Cuban Revolution hero of Argentinian origin, who toured the entire Latam continent, capturing romantically bitter images of his land and promoting his vision of “the new free man”. This “new free man” of Che would be free of any restraints of the government and the state, have access to land,education and medical care regardless of this origin and would possess many other freedoms most extensively captured by Marx and his followers (personally, I am allergic to communism and even socialism, so I won’t go there).

Despite the inclination of my own political views, I can’t help but admire Che’s dream: so passionate, so absolute, so pure. After Che’s meeting with Fidel it became the dream of the Cuban Revolution – and, later, after the regime of Batista had come to an end, – the dream of many other revolutionary movements, in Latin America and beyond, in Congo and Bolivia. And even if the economic success of the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent Castro’s regime poses some questions today, the spiritual leadership of the image that Che painted more than half a century ago remains undisputed.

Such is a power of a wish. Such is a power of a dream.


Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken

Today’s photo challenge is about The Road Taken. Just as I was reading the description, one thought flashed through my mind: Cuba! This country has won me over – at once and, I have to say, unexpectedly, because I was not looking to coming to the Cuban countryside. At all.

Before my trip, I could understand the fascination of Havana, with its infamous gorgeous buildings in catastrophic conditions, its music and rum. But the countryside? I was not sure what to expect. To get there, we had to literally take the road, driving under the Cuban sun for hours with Juan Carlos, telling us (for hours as well) the history of his country. All we had to do was ask why Fidel and the Revolution had won.


Vinales Valley in Cuba

Vinales was stunning. And so was the road to it. In fact, being on the road in Cuba is a lot like watching a movie: thrilling, ever-changing, fascinating, evolving. An experience of its own, compared to the joy of discovering the Old Havana.

Fuel is hard to find in Cuba, most gas stations you find are empty. That makes traffic, especially in this part of the island, virtually non existent. All is left is yourself, the sky, your thoughts, detailed history of the Cuban Revolution – and the endless road.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

For this week’s photo challenge Against the Odds, I have chosen a picture of French Normandy: a place called Etretat.

I love how nature can speak volumes. I remember in school (I was 10 or so), the literature teacher asked us why an author introduces a description of a landscape to a novel. (Literature is huge in Russian schools and questions like this one are not uncommon.) Most of my classmates came up with straightforward answers that made sense (to describe a setting, i.e. where the scene is taking place, or to communicate a change that is coming, i.e. that it is going to rain). When I was (finally and to my delight) asked, I said that the key purpose of introducing a scene was to describe how a protagonist is feeling at this moment.


The cliffs of Etretat, French Normandy

While the oddity of this (and several others) cliffs is quiet straightforward, this picture has another meaning to me. It is very personal – and very happy. Normandy is probably the gloomiest region of France. Its most popular place is a city Deauville with its main attraction, casino. Sunny days are very, very rare. Yet when we came there with my parents, the sun smiled at us. Etretat was spectacular for the entire day.

That’s another fact about Normandy: when the sun finally comes out, it suddenly becomes one of the most spectacular places on Earth.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadow

My life between cities, countries and airports, with 2.5 flights per week on average (my normal life, that is), doesn’t leave me as much time as I would love to have to put my hands on the ton of fantastic shots of Cuba and Mexico. Well, luckily Weekly Photo Challenge is a much more manageable task than filtering through 2400+ shots.

This week’s topic is Shadow. There is a lot, in fact, I can write about shadow: every photographer can. If light is fundamental to a great photo, shadow is something much more elusive and far less controllable – yet sometimes even more important to capture the mood. You can measure the light and its sources in very precise units – but there is no scientific method to control shadow: its depth, color, its light (shadows also have light, what do you think)? Shadows are elusive, too. Shadows have character. They are like cats: you have them here and now, you half-press your shutter button – and off they go before you complete your work. That’s why shadows, to me, are much more magical than the light. I love them, I flirt with them, I constantly chase them with my camera.


Havana, Cuba kissed by the first rays of light

Here is what I have on my first sunrise in Havana: shadows fill it with sheer magic. They hide the imperfections, help the mystery of the night prevail for yet another moment and set the stage to the first rays of sun. To me, Havana is most beautiful when the sun just rises (or starts setting down).

After all,

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen



Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitude

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is Solitude. Now, solitude is something that almost never happens to me (or to most people today, for that matter). Except for the time I spend in the air or when I am one on one with nature. One on one with nature is a special type of solitude: more profound, more spiritual, the one asking good questions and the one answering them. (Plus, it does not get ruined by empty time-killing airplane conversations thrown by people who just can’t tolerate being in their own company.)


A teenage boy leading the caravan of camels in Morocco desert

Somehow being in the nature makes you feel alone even if you are surrounded by people – and think about things that really matter. That means, about 90% of your usual every day thoughts: work, getting from A to B, grocery list, to do list, goals list, any other task that list can be made of, – fade away. You understand what’s important and that important is few. Much fewer than we normally think. You finally hear “less is more”, and hear it in your heart.

I took this picture in Morocco desert, listening to the well-rhymed steps of the camel that was carrying me – so soft that they seemed to be sinking in the sand, – and the steps of all the camels behind it, in the caravan. There were at least ten people behind me, and I could neither hear them or feel their presence.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Repurpose

First, the theme of this week’s Photo Challenge has caught me off guard. I mean, “Repurpose“?.. But then it has dawn on me: Cuban cars! As I have just wrote in my 10 Facts About Cuba You Did Not Know (And You Should), Cuba is full of gorgeous, colourful, shiny American cars of 1920-50s, brought to the island before the embargo. In fact, many of them hit Cuban ground before their official appearance on the American roads, because their manufactures were using Cuba as a trial driving range before the grand opening at home.

These cars are impeccably maintained – or at least they look so. However, with the embargo in place from 1962, how do you maintain all these classic beauty? You repurpose. Car reparation became a special art in Cuba, the one people are proud of, – and rightly so. Anything goes: spare parts of not affected by embargo Mitsubishi, Toyota and even less compatible oeuvres of Soviet making. In fact, often the only thing left from old American cars is their shiny, seemingly untouched by the time, frame.


Streets of Havana, Cuba, filled with fully operational cars more than half a century old

The very purpose of these cars has evolved over time as well. From means of transportation (and, without a doubt, demonstration of social prestige of their owners half a century ago) they have evolved to ta lucrative tourism revenue stream. Almost all of these cars are now private taxis. With the official taxi business (embodied by new “cool” air conditioned Chinese and Korean cars) owned 100% by the state, such as almost any business on the island (in fact, even hotels are at least 30% owned by the Ministry of Defense), classic cars is almost a unique private business in Cuba. How cool is that? Investing in beauty (and being creative in maintaining it!) brings dividends over time.

So much about conventional wisdom, uh?


Weekly Photo Challenge: Graceful

This week’s challenge theme is Graceful. To think about it, grace means different things to different people in different times. In the 30s, grace was in the cinema (and even more so, in real life) looks of Grace Kelly – such a twist of words! In the 50s, grace was captured in the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson and reinvented in the silhouettes of Chanel’s drawings. Twenty previous centuries have defined grace so well, that there is little that XXI can add to it on the image front.

So in our time, grace is all about being: how you build your brand, maintain your relationships, develop your career, which books you read, the vibe your home has, your screen picture, how you spend your time when nobody sees you (assuming there is a time like that), what you leave after your Presidential term (and how you leave), and how you drink your tea, – how you live your life, really.


For me, “graceful” has a lot to do with one of the central themes of my thoughts – and my life, really – balancing act. Being graceful was easier a century ago, when every gender had a role and grace had its own part of the script for both. Open the doors, offer flowers, be smart and well-read – say thank you, accept, put the flowers into water and ask good questions. Better fit with some personalities than others, but at least grace had its well defined place. Now being graceful is more of a choice, among others, sometimes more of a luxury – and sometimes more of a challenge. How do you remain a graceful host while working, gracefully of course, a 60h+ week? A graceful partner when you are tired and upset? A graceful parent? How do you insist, gracefully, on your point of view once it was rejected, sometimes in your face and often not gracefully at all? How do you remain graceful in the world, where grace has become something of an antiquity? When being graceful often puts you at a seeming disadvantage?

You do it by sticking to your values – and to your ways of being. Because being true to yourself is the most graceful act of all. For me, this building in London with a golden ballet dancer, – old fashioned and tiny in the shadow of a modern skyscraper, – is a perfect illustration to that.

For no one knows the dance you are dancing better that you do.