Portrait of a Woman
Santa Clara, Cuba
(Click on image to enlarge)
1/200s @ f/4, ISO 400, FL/70mm, Natural Light, Handheld
At its center, the wheel of life revolves around the market. The spokes of community radiate in all directions from this life-affirming core. It is true the world over. I have visited H’mong markets in the mountains of Vietnam, Maleku markets in the interior of Costa Rica and Maya markets in the heart of Yucatan and Chiapas. I have visited dozens of markets, and I never grow tired of them.
The market sustains life. Not just physical life, but also emotional, cultural and spiritual life. It’s where real working people sell their wares, make their money and catch up on the latest gossip. It is an intense microcosm of the surrounding community at large. The market not only sustains life, it is the personification of life itself—and death.
Foreign markets can be overwhelming for the western traveler. The experience can be, and often is, sensory overload. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Everything is immediate. Compared to the sanitized, impersonal and isolating experience of a western market, a foreign market can be intimidating. But once it is experienced, your western supermarket will never completely satisfy you again.
It can be difficult to photograph a market. Often the stalls are in deep shade, and the hustle and bustle of humanity is barely controlled chaos. One effective method is to focus in on a face. One face, in a market, can tell the whole story. You can see it in the eyes, you can almost feel the life-experience etched in the wrinkles or expressed with the mouth. The face is the market, and the market is the face.
Look at this Cuban woman. What does her face tell you? Is she tired, is she worried? What is she thinking? Look at the simple beauty in this classic Cuban, Afro-Caribbean face. She is poor by western standards, but look how proudly she presents herself—clean, tidy and confident. And look at the ubiquitous cellphone tucked into her bra. Necessity or status symbol, or both? Everywhere I go, I see western technology and culture creeping into the lives of indigenous people. And it saddens me. It threatens their uniqueness, but then I chide myself for being selfish and maybe even a little patronizing.
Look at this Portrait of a Woman. Look closely. Does she speak to you like she speaks to me? Are we really so different? Visit the markets to see the world. To see real people living real lives. To see living, first hand, without pretense (okay, maybe the cellphone is a little pretentious). Visit the markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and in Europe. Look at the faces. And if you’re really brave visit with the people, they’re as interested in us as we are in them. My global travels prove to me time and time again—that we are more alike than different.
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me
Photographer’s note: The original digital image was captured in CameraRAW with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. This image is pretty much right out of the camera, with very little post-edit work: Basic cropping for composition, minimal sharpening and a slight tweak to exposure. By shooting wide open at f/4 I took advantage of the soft, shaded natural light of the covered open-air market. I unobtrusively zoomed in on the woman’s face at 70mm, and caught her in a candid moment. RAW conversion, and the aforementioned basic post-edit adjustments, were all completed in PSE11. No fancy tricks on this one, just basic in-the-field camera work. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Indochine Photography International
* Expat Journal
* My NatGeo Portfolio