Rad A. Drew Photography: 2017

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is it Safe and Legal for Americans to Travel to Cuba?

© Rad A. Drew

For me, Cuba is pure magic!

Since my first trip to Cuba in 2013, I’ve been at least two times each year since. I’ve led 10 photography tours in that time, sharing with my participants the places and people I’ve come to love.

I just returned from leading two photography tours in November and I plan to return in March of 2018 to lead two more groups.

With all the changes in travel to Cuba during the Obama and Trump administrations, I’m often asked, “How is it still possible that you travel to Cuba given the new policies of the current administration?”

It’s true that travel to Cuba is a constantly moving target, but, it is perfectly legal and safe for Americans to travel to Cuba so long as we follow the guidelines set out by the current administration.

© Rad A. Drew

Here’s the deal.

On November 9, 2017, new current administration restrictions that were announced in June of 2017, began to be implemented. The Office of Foreign Asset Control’s (OFAC) Education/People-to-People designation (that my groups traveled under in the past) has been eliminated. 

I wondered how (or if) I’d be able to continue traveling to Cuba for photography and interaction with the Cuban people. The following new OFAC category, “Aid to Cuban People” is the answer.

US Citizen’s may travel to Cuba if they are part of a group that travels under the OFAC’s “Aid to Cuban People” designation, and if they are in the country to provide aid to the private Cuban economy. Our group qualifies for this designation as we do aid in the economy of the private sector by using private homes, private restaurants, and private transportation. We also visit local art galleries, support cultural institutions, such as the Cuban Ballet, and spend money with privately- vs government-owned businesses.

When we travel in March 2018, we will travel under the “Aid to Cuban People” designation (check-box #8 on the affidavit provided by the airlines). Because we stay in Casas, eat in private restaurants, and in many other ways support the private Cuban economy, we qualify to continue to travel to Cuba to photograph the splendor of her people, cities, and countryside. The official reason for our trip can be described this way: “To aid in the private financial future of Cuba accompanied by an American photographer chronicling the progress of the private economy through photography.”

© Rad A . Drew

This category, "Aid to Cuban People," is essentially what I’ve been doing for the past several years as my groups have been:
  • Staying in Casas (not government hotels)
  • Eating at privately owned (not government) restaurants.
  • Engaging with the Cuban people by visiting art galleries, and supporting local artists and photographers,
  • Engaging with Cuban people and culture (i.e., engaging with dancers from the National Cuban Ballet, and Cuban boxers in local gyms)
  • Engaging people during daily life which we do in the streets every day,
  • Visiting the marinas and other local businesses such as cigar factories, appliance repair shops, bicycle repair shops, and much more.
All these things qualify under the category of “Aid to Cuban People.” Under this category, we require no licensed Cuban “minder,” so we’ll be able to use our favorite guide and driver, and enjoy freedom to independently photograph and experience Cuban people and culture.

The bottom line is, it is perfectly legal and safe for Americans to travel to Cuba so long as we follow the guidelines set out by the current administration.

With that said, I hope you’ll consider traveling to Cuba! Whether you choose travel with me (and I hope you do!) or with one of the other great photographers who lead trips to Cuba, it’s important to the Cuban people that you go! Email me if you'd like the names of other photographers I would recommend traveling with. Each of these great photographers and teachers is my friend, and each is experienced at leading groups in Cuba. You can’t go wrong with any of these leaders.

The Cuban economy benefits so much from US tourism! Our dollars support real people who are willing to work very hard to ensure that we have a wonderful experience and that we learn about them and their country. 

© Rad A. Drew

For me the “economy” is not just a vague term; it has a face; 
  • it’s my young guide, Vivian, who speaks 4 languages and is working on her Master's Degree, and relies on tourism for her livelihood,
  • it’s Evan, our driver who supports his family by driving groups of visitors;
  • it’s my young friend and painter, Roly, who needs traffic in his art gallery in Old Havana that leads to sales of his art work;
  • it’s my friend Carlos and the several staff he employs at his Casa who take care of our needs when we stay with them;
  • it’s my friend, Indira, who works at a local paladar that caters to visitors.
I’m leading two photography tours in March, 2018. Each is limited to only 5 or 6 photographers.

March 4-12, includes Havana, Trinidad and points in between. We will photograph in the streets of Old Havana and Trinidad and visit small towns and villages between these two cities. We also will photograph the beautiful dancers of the Cuban National Ballet. 6 participants maximum. You can read about it here.

March 16-24, is in collaboration with my friend and extraordinary Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista. Ramses and I will assist you in photographing dancers from the Cuban National Ballet in an old mansion as well as other locations in Havana. We’ll have the opportunity to photograph Cuban models in Ramses’ private studio, and do street photography in Havana. Then, we’ll spend 4 days in the Vinales Valley photographing the beautiful landscapes and the people who farm tobacco in this area. 5 participants maximum. Read about it here.

© Rad A. Drew

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

For the past several years it's been my privilege and pleasure to photograph young dancers from the Cuban National Ballet. Their beauty and grace as dancer-athlete-artists is unlike anything I've ever witnessed. And, even though these young women are the best of the best and the envy of dancers throughout the world, they are completely down-to-earth and as delightful in person as they are graceful on stage. Many have had the opportunity to travel and perform throughout Europe and South America. They appear to be having the time of their life! 

This collection is another Steller Story created with the Steller Stories App for iPhone. (It's also available for android phones on the Google Play store.) 

I hope you enjoy it! 

For details about photographing Cuba and all she has to offer, email me here! I have two trips planned for March 2018.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A few months ago, I discovered Steller Stories. It's a free iPhone app by Mombo Labs, LLC that lets you combine photos and videos into a storybook collection for sharing via social media.

There is a Steller site that is similar to the Instagram format, but for Steller Story collections. Once created you can post your story to Facebook and other social media sites, and Steller provides the HTML code that allows you to post it to your website, as I've done here with my collection of images from Vinales Valley.

Enjoy my Steller Story and check out the app Steller Stories for some fun of your own!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Old Man and the Sea

Old Fisherman, Cojimar Marina
Fuji X-E2
© Rad A. Drew
One of my favorite locations for experiencing Cuba is a little marina near the sea-side village of Cojimar. It's the place where Ernest Helmingway moored his boat, the Pilar, and the people who worked at this marina back in his day were the inspiration for his great novel, The Old Man and The Sea

In that novel, Hemingway wrote of the hardships of the life of the fishermen there, of the poverty, and of the endless hunt for the big fish that allowed men to eke out an existence to support their families.

Today, I don't believe it is much different. The fisherman are still very poor. The boats look as though they barely float, and the fisherman use the same methods that were used by the Old Man in Hemingway's novel. The fight to bring in a big fish is much the same.

When we arrived at the marina on the morning of our most recent visit, everyone was buzzing with the news: a boat crewed by two old fisherman had just returned with two several hundred pound sharks. We were there in time to witness the cleaning and butchering for market.

Old Fisherman Cleans his Catch, Cojimar Marina
iPhone 7 Plus
© Rad A. Drew
Watching the process I was struck by this way of life and how it represents just one of the many facets of the multiple cultures that are Cuba.

Only hours earlier, our photography group had been in the presence of some of the most beautiful, graceful creatures on earth: the young dancers from the Cuban National Ballet. 

Dancer at the Mansion, Cuban National Ballet
Fuji X-E2
© Rad A. Drew
Now, we watched an old fisherman, long, lean, and muscular from his trade, bronzed and leathered by the sun, as he cleaned his catch. It was a bloody process and a necessary one and he performed it with an elegance and grace that rivaled that of the Dancers we'd photographed earlier in the day. The old fisherman had no sharpening rod for his knife, so, as he butchered the giant fish that he'd caught at sea, he made do by occasionally running the blade of one knife along the blade of another to hone the edge, the metallic scritch-scratch,  scritch-scratch of steel on steel punctuating his gruesome task.

I was struck by both the polarities of these two worlds – the dancers and the fishermen – and their similarities, but mostly how both experiences are so much a part of what is so exactly, so precisely, Cuba today.

I'll be returning to Cuba next week for another adventure, this time in collaboration with tremendous Cuban Photographer, Ramses Batista. We'll photograph dancers in Havana, models in Ramses' studio, and then venture to the farming regions surrounding Vinales where we'll experience farm life and rural living.

For those interested in visiting Cuba, I'll be leading another Photography Tour (it'll be my 11th since 2013) from March 4-12, 2018. We'll photograph dancers from the Cuban National Ballet, shoot in the streets of Havana and Trinidad, and visit marinas and villages in rural areas outside of these two cities. If you'd like to be on the early notification list for this trip once I get it posted, you can email here. I like to work with small groups, so the tour is limited to 6 participants. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Update on Cuban Friends after Hurricane Irma and Announcements about U.S. Travel to Cuba

Game Face, Old Havana
© Rad A. Drew

Most of our Cuban friends living in Havana have contacted me since Hurricane Irma came through and everyone is okay. 

Painter Roly Castelliny had flooding in his studio in Old Havana but his home was spared. His mother, however, lost everything to the flooding. Reduced tourism is having a devastating impact on Roly's art business. He normally sells his work to tourists and there are very few tourists there now. Fellow artists are talking about how this will be one of the worst years for Cuban artists in recent memory. 

Cuban Painter, Roly Castelliny
© Rad A. Drew
Mercy Piedra, dancer with the International Cuban Ballet, only experienced power outages after the storm, but no other significant impact. Her friend and colleague, Patricia Santamarina Roca, is also doing well.

Mercedes "Mercy" Piedra, International Cuban Ballet
© Rad A. Drew
Patricia Santamarina Roca, International Cuba Ballet
© Rad A. Drew
Vivian Sanchez, our wonderful guide for several years now, weathered the storm and is doing well. Tourism, though, is down, which is negatively impacting her business.

Vivian Sanchez, Best Tour Guide in Cuba! :)
© Rad A. Drew

In Havana there was little damage from the hurricane itself, but the chest-high flooding caused a lot of damage, loss of personal belongings, damage to homes, and lengthy power outages.

My friend, Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista, wrote:

"... it was hard, there were 5 days with no power or water. I came out on both days we got hit in Havana to shoot. Every day for 7 hours sometimes with the water up to my chest. I was sad but impressed of seeing my people smile to the camera even when some of them lost everything inside their houses."

Ramses Batista, (Photo Credit: Richard Martin Photography)
Perhaps more devastating than Hurricane Irma, was last month's announcement from Washington concerning travel to Cuba. The mysterious illnesses at the U.S. Embassy and subsequent announcements about reductions to embassy staff, and travel restrictions have confused Americans about whether travel to Cuba is allowed or not, resulting in significantly reduced tourism. 

Group travel in accordance with current Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) guidelines is completely legitimate. 

U.S. travelers don't require a true visa for stays fewer than 28 days; instead, we obtain a tourist card (often erroneously referred to as a visa), and travel as a group under the OFAC's People-to-People designation. 

U.S. Embassy staff has been reduced, which will impair Cuban citizen's ability to get a visa to travel to the U.S. Those embassy staff who might aid a U.S. citizen traveling in Cuba are still in place. With my trips, our travel agency also has significant staff in Havana who are there to support us in the event we need any kind of assistance when traveling in Cuba.

Both of my scheduled trips to Cuba in November are on. They are not restricted by recent announcements about travel to Cuba. I have two spots open in each trip. The window for joining the first trip, November 5-13, is rapidly closing. If you would like to join this trip or the one scheduled for Nov 26 - Dec 4, email me here and I'll send you the info you need to register. 

Earlier this year, I established a site to collect money to buy hard-to-get paint supplies for Roly Castelliny. Before I leave for Cuba, I will use all the money in this fund to purchase painting supplies -- canvas, paint, brushes, etc. -- for Roly to keep him painting. Here's a link if you'd like to contribute to this fund. I've also posted Roly's paintings and am awaiting his price list and will post prices as soon as I have them.

Fisherman, Havana. © Roly Castelliny 
This may seem self-serving for me to solicit participants to travel with me, but it's the only way I know to actually serve people in Cuba. Our tourism makes a difference in the lives of people I know and love. Whether you go with me, or go with another photographer or other group, I encourage you to to to Cuba! Of course I would love to have you on my trip, but here are some other photographers who are also leading trips to Cuba in 2017 and 2018. Each is a friend and excellent photographer and tour leader. You can't go wrong going on any of these trips. Consider going to Cuba now. It may only get harder in the future. Go for yourself, but know you are also going for the people of Cuba who will benefit from your visit.

Trips to Cuba in 2017 and 2018:

Taxis, Old Havana
© Rad A. Drew

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Legend Classic Irvington Cafe

Home of True Patrons of the Local Arts!

The Legend Classic Irvington Café
5614 E Washington St
Indianapolis, IN 46219
(317) 536-2028

My exhibit, Our Indiana, is currently showing at Legends. On Wednesday, September 6, from 6:30 to 8:30, you're invited to a reception to see my images and mingle with friends and neighbors. Since this is my third exhibit at Legends, I thought it was a good opportunity to share a little about the Robertson's who own Legends and make these exhibits possible for many local artists. -- Rad

John and Kim Robertson, Proprietors of The Legend Classic Irvington Cafe

Did you know that when you patronize The Legend Classic Irvington Cafe on Indy's east side, you are supporting local artists? 

Legends (as it's known to those of us in the neighborhood) has been a favorite Irvington restaurant were one can get a great meal, a fine wine, a local craft beer, and see the work of local artists on exhibit year-round.

Owners, John and Kim Robertson, recognizing and valuing the significance of a community's art, began showing the work of local artists shortly after opening Legends in 2003 and they continue the practice to this day.

Kim is the driving force behind the exhibits and shows deep appreciation for the work. “The art created in a community is a vital part of its soul,” she said. “I once heard art defined as work that makes you feel more alive in its presence. With that thought in mind, I would assert that featuring local art makes for a more vibrant community.”

When Kim began showing local art in 2003, it was in part to fill the restaurant walls with art that would create an engaging and stimulating environment for restaurant customers, but it was also to fill a community need. As a member of the Irvington Guild of Artists, Kim was aware that the Guild was looking for their own gallery space, but at that time they didn’t have the resources or the manpower to operate one. Having just opened Legends, Kim and John offered their dining room as an exhibit area. For the first year, then Guild president, Becky Hill, was instrumental in coordinating exhibitions. O
ver time, Kim took on the curation responsibilities.

Rita Spalding (Click for Website)
Since then Legends has exhibited the work of many area artists, including Kyle Ragsdale, Quincy Owens, Emma Overman, Rita Spalding, Jenny Elkins, Martha Santo, Adele Schluge, Kathleen Biale, Freddi Jacobi Stevens, Chris Griffin Woods, Wayne Kimmel, Patti Owings, Ginny Taylor Rosner, and myself, to name a few.

Quincy Owens (Website)
“In choosing art,” Kim says, “I look for a distinctive point of view and an artist who has a large enough body of work that the exhibit conveys a cohesive narrative.” Kim’s favorite artists always have what she refers to as “a fearless originality” to their work.

Emma Overman (Website)
In the bar side of the restaurant you can see the work of local artist, Ginny Taylor Rosner, permanently on display. Rosner's timeless works featuring Irvington scenes fit perfectly the Legends' neighborhood mood and feel. 

“I chose Ginny's work when we expanded our restaurant,” said Kim, “because she was working with the process called gum bichromate which I thought had such an evocative quality. It made all the images of Irvington look like they had been unearthed from an attic. Each picture had a moody, haunted aura. At the time of our expansion, I really wanted to reference the literary source of our restaurant's name (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and her work helped tell the story.”

Art is exhibited in the Legends' main dining room, where works of local artists rotate in and out every two months. A flexible hanging system allows local painters, photographers, and mixed media artists to quickly and easily install their exhibits. 

Jenny Elkins (website)

In the spirit of truly supporting local artists, Kim and John allow artists to sell their work commission-free. For many artists being able to keep the full proceeds from the sale of their work helps them continue to create new art, and to offer work at reasonable prices.

Currently I’m showing my exhibit, Our Indiana, featuring photographs of barns, local structures, and rural scenes I’ve discovered on my continuing exploration of our beautiful state. The images are evocative and moody and many were made with the iPhone. This marks my third exhibit at Legends. 

Rad A. Drew, photo by Sally Wolf (Sally's Website)


There is an opening event on Wednesday, September 6, 6:30 to 8:30. Come to Legends for a drink. Stay for dinner. See the work and enjoy great fellowship. Here's a link to details. 


Here are a few of my images currently showing in the Our Indiana exhibit.

Winter Barn

Gothic Chapel, Crown Hill Cemetery

Behind the Barn

Once a Barnyard

Quintessence (aka Mosey)
The next exhibit in October and November features the distinctive work of painter, Kyle Ragsdale.

Kyle Ragesdale (Website)
Any artist interested in showing their work can stop by the restaurant or call Kim. “I am always on the lookout for new artists to feature,” she said.

Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering, the food at Legends is top notch and the prices reasonable. They are open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday brunch. They take pride in their wine selection and serve a variety of local craft beers. If you want to get a feel for the hospitality of the Irvington neighborhood, include a stop at Legends, and while you're there, check out the local art on exhibit!

The Legend Classic Irvington Café
5614 E Washington St
Indianapolis, IN 46219
(317) 536-2028

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feed Your Soul with Local Art this First Friday

Local Art by Nancy Lee, Twilight Nouveau Necklace, Argentium Silver and Moonstone 
Showing at Nancy Lee Designs Gallery, Circle City Industrial Complex

It's IDADA First Friday again, which means many opportunities throughout Indianapolis (and beyond) to view art, meet local artists, and to gather as a community, celebrating some of the best of what we human beings have to offer the world -- our creative expression!
Local Art by Katrina Murray, All Together
Showing at the Tarkington Gallery through September
Includes work of other CCIC Artists
Tarkington Tower, 4000 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46208

These First Friday events, I think, are significant social activities that are important to a community, helping each of us learn more about our community's diversity as well as those commonalities we share as neighbors. 

Local Art by Rad A. Drew, Embraced, (SOLD) 
Showing at Nancy Lee Designs Gallery, Vanishing Barns Exhibit by Rad A. Drew
Circle City Industrial Complex

First Friday art events bring people from all walks together for an evening and provide an opportunity to be intellectually stimulated and nurtured through contact with others and exposure to creative artwork.

Local Art, Forest Bathing, by Lorie Lee Donoho Andrews
Showing at the Speck Gallery in the Harrison Center

And please, support a local artist! 

Being an artist is both a joy AND a daily act of courage. It's risky business to bare one's soul to a community and expose one's work - and self - to scrutiny. When you purchase an artist's work you are not only making an important financial contribution toward sustaining that creative's ability to continue working, you're also providing important moral support and validation that is equally important to nurturing an individual artist and sustaining creative expression in our community.
Local Art by Rad A. Drew, Out to Pasture Showing at the Meaningful Places: An iMOCA & Indiana Landmarks Exhibition

by Eric Schoch, Detail of Abandoned Chair, Abandoned Church
Showing at the Meaningful Places: An iMOCA & Indiana Landmarks Exibition
Yes, my wife, metalsmith Nancy Lee, and I are both part of the Indianapolis art community, but don't misinterpret my comments here as a shameless appeal to buy OUR art, necessarily -- although that would be great! 

Local Art by Nancy Lee, Dandy Lion Lady Bug BroochSilver, copper, brass, German grandfather clock gear
Showing at Nancy Lee Designs Gallery, Circle City Industrial Complex
Instead, consider this an appeal, an invitation, to find art and meet a local artist whose work moves or inspires you, and support them by acknowledging and purchasing their work. When you find work that speaks to you, and appreciate it, you are performing an act of creativity yourself. What you like and what is meaningful to you is an entirely personal, unique expression. Maybe the relationship you develop with a work or an artist will tell you something about who you are.

By purchasing local art you are:
  • having FUN!
  • contributing to some of the best of what our communities have to offer, 
  • having an impact on the local economy 
  • acquiring a work that can be a source of joy to you as you see it everyday,
  • creating a unique environment when you show a variety of art in your home,
  • supporting imaginative spirits, allowing them to continue to create new work and contribute to our community in positive ways.
For a great list of IDADA First Friday events, see the Map created by the Indiana Downtown Artists and Dealer's Association - IDADA

Local Art by Rad A. Drew, Behind the Barn
Showing at Nancy Lee Designs Gallery, Vanishing Barns Exhibit by Rad A. Drew
Circle City Industrial Complex

Other events this Friday

A multitude of Artists at the 

Circle City Industrial Complex
1125 E Brookside Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46202

A multitude of Artists at the 
Stutz Gallery
212 West 10th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Exhibit: Vanishing Barns of Indiana by Rad Drew
Nancy Lee Designs Gallery
Circle City Industrial Complex
1125 E Brookside Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Meaningful Places: An iMOCA & Indiana Landmarks Exhibition
Rapp Family Gallery
Indiana Landmark Center
1201 Central Ave

Indianapolis, IN 46202

Gallery 924
924 N. Pennsylvania St
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Tarkington Tower hosts artists from Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC) Artists, Katrina J. Murray, Nancy Lee, and Andrea Townsend 

Tarkington Tower 
4000 N Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46208
When: Now thru September 2017
Hours Week days 10:00 to 6:00 (give-or-take)