The Photographic Performance 2017/ Bill Motley

This is the second in a series of blog posts, conversations, focusing on the many entries we received for our call “The Photographic Performance 2017” that were not chosen for exhibition in the gallery, yet we feel demand an audience.

Bill Motley is a photographer from San Antonio, Texas.  We think his project is important for two reasons:  Cuba is currently in the news – President Obama started to mend relations between the two countries and President Trump is falling back, taking us back to an old Cold War stance.

 Bill has gone to Cuba trying to make connection.  His project is about connecting.

Why is your series of photographs titled “The Unseen Cuba”?

When I travel I make a point to go where the tourists aren’t.  I have a t-shirt that says “All those who wander are not lost”. This pretty much speaks to how I approach my photography. I love wandering the back streets or countryside wherever I go. Of course you can’t be in Havana without photographing on the city seawall called the Malecon but I wanted more.  On both trips to Cuba our group had the good fortune to work with two Cuban professional photographers, twin brothers, who live in Havana. They were able to open doors, literally and figuratively resulting in the most incredible experience on both a personal and photographic level.  While there are many iconic images of Cuba, I wanted to capture the day to day lives of the Cuban people that very few, if any, tourists will ever see and hope my photographs accomplish this.

Is your photography generally focused on “street shooting”?

No, not at all. I’m primarily am a landscape photographer but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Cuba.  Photographing people was a totally new experience for me.  I was initially very uncomfortable approaching people to photograph. One of my mentors on the trip pushed me to get up close and be part of the experience.  Fortunately my wife speaks fluent Spanish so she was also able to bond with the people. Trust me, this was much better than me pointing my camera at someone and smiling hoping they’d understood I wanted to photograph them.  I also found myself drawn to the architecture and amazing colors everywhere. A majority of the buildings we saw were suffering from decades of terrible neglect however this presented me with new opportunities. The countless layers of paint on these old buildings were stunning as were the old colonial style buildings. One can only imagine what Cuba looked like in its heyday.

What did you take away from your photography experience in Cuba?

By far was learning the importance of getting outside my comfort zone as a photographer. It took a couple of days to gain the courage to approach people and ask to photograph them but over time it became fun.  On our second trip my wife took a Fuji instant camera and gave small photos to everyone I photographed. I was amazed by how many Cubans had never seen a photograph of themselves. I was also struck by how innovative, hard working and incredibly friendly the Cuban people are. They almost universally love the United States and peppered us with questions when they learned we were Americans.  My overall experience in Cuba went far beyond photography and touched me in a way I never expected.