Rad A. Drew Photography: December 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, one in November, 2018 and the other in January 2019. Each is limited to only 6 and 5 photographers, respectively.

November 7-15, 2018, 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.

January 31 to February 8, 2019, 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!