Sunday, February 28, 2010

The True Tropos of Photos

So it turns out that I went in the wrong direction with the whole tropos situation. I was observing more on authenticity of my subject than the story of the photos and what I was trying to convey through the pictures.

A cultural identity can often be found close to home. After careful consideration, I realized my girlfriend's family had a typical, standard home. They are descendants of Cubans, not actually born in Cuba, or raised there. There would be no distinction or difference in perceiving cultural diversity because I myself am Caucasian, and there house typically looks the same as mine.

The restaurant is ideal because it examines culture specifically and the traits that prominently separates Cuba from the world.

Cigars, dominoes, and coffee. These words seem so simple, but after seeing how important they are, I delved a little deeper. The Cuban lifestyle is all about taking time to enjoy leisurely pleasures. One thing I have noted is compared to most typical families, eating together at meals and visiting is a definite requirement because it's about the little things that keep us together.

Smoking, no matter how unhealthy it is, was still a time for people with the same similarities to unwind, indulge in a habit, and relax. Throw in coffee, and dominoes, and you have the perfect excuse to waste a free Saturday afternoon with family, friends, and neighbors.

I wanted to include in each frame the habits of Cuba. Yes, it is an island. It is tropical, and it has much to offer, but the appeal of relaxation and comfort still holds the attention of the locals.

Of all people, they are not to be excluded from the fun!

When it came to excluding certain things, I wanted to omit the tables, drink area, and the overall appearance of the store.

Anything that might have displayed a shift to American "modernism" is something I wanted to avoid. Yes, Jose and Suzie adopted certain traits in order to function in a business-like state, but the signs they've hung in their building, the wood-carved map of Cuba actually made in Cuba, the many different packages of cigars and the commodities of coffee and the flavors sought after.

The tropos of the shot helps tell my story that these are people who enjoy good food, getting together, and generally operate on tight-knit communities and hangouts. The pictures displaying the culture of the beach, the maracas hanging around the pictures, and the general feel of tropic paradise is what I wanted to capture.

And when it comes to food, I find it hard to name just one culture that throws parties and festivals specifically to bring together multitude of people. When considering different races, the fact that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated widely and Halloween, or the "Day of the Dawn", is quite popular is not a coincidence. Now, yes, there is a difference between Latin America and Central America... quite noticeably, the unique details of each separate country and custom.

But for Cuba, there is no confusing the wonderful atmosphere of pleasant comradery that I only dared to hope to capture.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Tropos of A Cuban Restaurant...

Well, this week, I was asked to look back over my material, and the pictures, and to go into more detail about why I chose particular angles, imagery, the appearance and size, and most particularly, the story I'm trying to convey to others.

When I look over these pictures, I cannot help but feel that this place separates itself by creating an identity. Thinking about McDonalds and Olive Garden and all of these other places that serve food, it's weird to think how they are merely decoration and aesthetic attention-grabbers.

From these pictures, you can tell that the Cuban Restaurant is authentic. That, if you walk in through the doors, you're guaranteed to be greeted, and any questions or topics about Cuba and the like will be treated with warm stories, humor, and laughter as well as great food, drinks, and an interest in you, not specifically your money.

I think that that is why there was no particular skill at taking these pictures. There was no prior preparation, skill, or finesse. These pictures were all taken on my camera phone, on the spot. And I think that is the beauty of them. They are original. It sparks originality, and uniqueness. Like if you walk into a Japanese restaurant, you expect there to be some tokens of Japan, reminiscent of The Great Wall, feudal ages, and samurai, emperors, and the like.

Now, that is not to say that America fails to have an identity. If you were to walk into a McDonalds overseas, you would see the same key elements there that you would here. Quality, cleanliness, efficiency, and food that satisfies hunger.

But McDonalds, like other American businesses, aren't interested in chatting or conversation. About getting to know people on a personal level, and cooking for the general satisfaction rather than expectation.

Now don't get me wrong. We are all attuned to different standards and different levels of cooking. But food, like it or not, is diverse and what we'll call, culturious. It does not discriminate, it brings everyone closer together, and more importantly, it comes with a proud label of heritage, age, and respect.

During our last visit, when my girlfriend and I took the pictures, we conversed with the owners, Jose and Suzie, Val's cousins, about another restaurant they had tried.

Suzie, hearing of another Cuban restaurant, visited the so-called authentic business while she was in the area. Upon sitting down, she ordered toast. The first red flag was when the waitress offered her a choice of white bread or wheat.

Now, for those who aren't fortunate enough to date a Cuban won't know that wheat or any bread other than white is considered inauthentic and borderline-insulting to the way of Cuban cooking.

The second breaking point was when Suzie tried to order a tortilla and was again, given a choice of cornmeal or flour. Even I was caught off-guard but it turns out that a tortilla is a type of Spanish omelette where eggs, potatoes, and other foods are added for a quick meal at any time. The offense here of course, miscommunication; specifically that of offering just a tortilla of a wrap-like quality, or an actual dish called the tortilla.

And that is ultimately what I'm getting at. Looking at these pictures, food included, you can see that there is no boast or need to challenge the authenticity. The arrangement of the pictures is natural. It didn't require some person to come in, research the Cuban lifestyle and habits, and then import relics and similar objects that hold fascination. These are people who live the traits, who are proud and represent who they are through their food.

I think one of the best pictures I took was the arrangement of the dominoes, the mini-palm tree, and the packet of cigarettes. If you were to travel to Georgia and go to the counter of this establishment, rest-assured, you would find these elements.

And I think that that is the most important lesson pulled out of photography. Of course we can ask people to participate, to fake, or show parts of a story that we want others to see. But photographs aren't just about weddings and birthdays. It isn't just the happiness. It's about life. The natural misery, frustration, sorrowful moments that make us thankful for what we have.

And the tropos of the pictures are exactly that. The stories of each item beg for a question that will be followed with comfortable leisurely conversations and a profound interest in the Cuban background.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scenes From A Cuban Restaurant...

So, the assignment this week was to take pictures of "culture" and to more or less spark the interest of our culture.

Thankfully, loyal readers, my girlfriend is Cuban! xD

(In case you didn't know that, the flan in the YouTube video should have tipped you off. It's a specialty of Cuba. And the title of this blog, for those who don't grasp my dry wit, is a play on of a Billy Joel song... that's all the hint I'll give.)

Tonight, I ventured once again to a wonderful little restaurant called, "Cuban Restaurant". Now, before you think it's just another copy or attempt at generating food, it is, in all sense, owned and operated by Cubans proud to make and serve the food.

This trip, having been my third, resulted in having to take pictures of the aesthetic scenery. It had to be done. To prove how wonderful the people, who treat me like family are, and the tasty food that cannot be found anywhere but Cuba.

The first picture is of the counter. I know it looks like empty space, but on the contrary, this is the biggest part of the restaurant open to the public. The corner actually doubles as a karaoke bar, full of English AND Spanish songs that allow the customers to feel more at ease.

This is actually a poster from Cuba, brought back, showing the peaceful life and paradise, possibly exaggerated of course.

This sign, of course, is for the Men's restroom. I found it fascinating that a little bit of the culture even appeals to here compared to restaurants in Japanese steakhouses and Chinese restaurants.

This picture, I believe, captures the "spirit" of Cubans everywhere. To take this picture, I wanted to take a shot that utilized the "tropical" air of the island and the local pastime of "dominoes". A pack of cigarettes lies nearby, always handy for anyone interested, and believe it or not, this was not my arrangement. This can be found there, exactly as is, pending nobody has a dominoes match going on.

Here, you can see the menus along with authentic cases for smokes and other goods, along with another picture exported from Cuba. The natural feel is obvious, as well as the apparent use and upkeep of the restaurant side of the business.

As for each of these pictures, I apologize for the size on some of them. These items are more than decorations. They are stories in and of themselves. It was important for me to angle the camera correctly and include in each a reasonable size and frame of the material. We have pictures and boxes of cigars, a wooden replica of Cuba, actually made in Cuba, and of course, coffee galore.

To summarize in short, the articles and videos truly helped me realize the importance of capturing pictures properly. They show a story, a truth to what we see and perceive around us. It is with pride that I can post these because it was with careful consideration and attention to detail and my surroundings that I can truly appreciate the atmosphere as well as the food.

Last, but not least, I posted some pictures of the food that was offered. In case you are hungry, or in need of something to eat, I have them below the text as a fair warning. They are as tasty as they look, and they include the Media Noche, which is a Cuban sandwich on sweet Cuban roll, pickles, mustard, ham, and a type of cheese. Next to it is Yuca con mojo, a type of potato root cooked at just the right time and temperature, and yuca fries, and black beans and rice, a local favorite, and of course, bistec empanizado, which is breaded and covered in parsley and onions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rhetoric Not Included in the Happy Meal

After viewing the McDonald's Site, I was surprised at many different things. Mostly, the ease and clutter-free that was on each webpage, and how easy it was to navigate.

The Kairos of McDonalds is very broad and indefinite. You can find support for the Winter Olympics... you can find a corner for kids, such as activities and games, a place for adults, such as health-related information, and careers, a shop (which actually is surprising, considering all of the items), and a lot of "time-wasting" material that relates to promotions, advertisements, and updates on McDonald's activities.

On the Logos level, the rationality of the website seems very practical. There is no clutter. Hardly do you have to scroll up and down to take in the information, or read articles and paragraphs. Likewise, there are usually more pictures and videos than there are anything else. Thankfully, there are no major "third-party" advertisements, although it appeals to the typical American by offering to join through FaceBook and Twitter.

The Pathos level seems to exhibit constant happiness. Simple colors, organization, each section appeals to the point of that area. If you're looking for a job, it names opportunities, locations, information, and positions. If you click on Food, Nutrition, & Fitness, you have complete access to every bit of food that McDonalds produces instantly, without having to search or type in anything. The emotional aspect of this eliminates any frustration or confusion, and the entire site radiates comfort and ease.

The Ethos appeal seems to try and include a little bit of everything, as is American custom. Even when watching the commercials for McDonald's over the last eighty years, you can see movement from the typical family outing to "a little bit of everything", from the atypical music to targeting kids specifically with Ronald playing with children, to the repetitive repeat of a guy going to different businesses asking what he can purchase with a single American dollar.

The topic of the website seems upfront and forward. If you want McDonald's information, visit our site. Look on the specific link, and then look through the webpage for the specific bit of data. As far as I can tell, a "third-party" built the McDonald's USA website, but certain links warn that you are navigating away while other links seem already there. Again, the purpose of the site seems to be for American customers of all ages and ethnicity. It appears online of course, and based on a hunch, I assume it is the site that is linked through all McDonald's advertisements. The site seems to have been made between 2005 and 2010, probably being updated with new recipes, ingredients, and food items. I assume that the site will not be revamped or altered majorly until after this year, and may not look the same in 2011. As for how and why, the website is probably framed through extensive feedback and user's opinions, and it was written for anyone wanting to get online and inquisitively search online.

Although I am not out of the country at the moment, I will be asking friends to send my pictures of various McDonalds from around the U.S. I hope this makes up for not being able to contrast a "host" site with the United States site.

I'll keep you all posted...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

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Well, here's another post, and hopefully, an equal opportunity to boggle the mind and perplex the cerebellum.

And other assorted-various parts of the brain.

To begin, I was very surprised how much of an impact of technology plays on humanity. In modern times, we consider any improvement or positive change to benefit us as individuals and as a society. Oftentimes, the only choice we have to make is between competitors of the same product. But was it always that way?

In relation to any improvement, what are the consequences to each advance? Doesn't each advance, from writing to blogging now become an effective mean in which to project creative thoughts and ideas?

More importantly, hasn't each innovative breakthrough been a way to make things easier? I mean, technically, we can blame the wheel for taking away physical stamina and keeping humans from becoming obese. Likewise, we can say that the commodity of packaged foods eliminated any need for population control and the fight for survival.

However, in comparison to technological advances, we see that we are replacing one means with another. The wheel hasn't taken away from the fact that we still need to exert some force or effort to travel. Even though we can carry more, we are still accomplishing the same goal we set out for. As for food, we aren't replacing one with another, we are simply taking away from having to gather.

But the problem is too diverse with the internet. We are mass-producing a single unit in which we can do multiple tasks at a single time. Our phone has the ability to call and text. To use a calculator, to chat, to use the internet, to tell time, to play games, to search for information. Even audio players, such as the Zune and iPod come included with multiple features. Even more startling is the transition from paper to stored data.

There is no doubt that in an office, one would rather have a computer with patient's files stored on it than filing cabinets cluttering space (although during a power outage, I believe that we would prefer the paper!).

In regards to the Friedrich Nietzsche case of buying a typewriter, it poses an interesting question. Nietzsche didn't altogether eliminate the need for paper. He replaced writing by hand for the ease of deft agility and processing his work faster.

So why was there a noticeable change in his work when his friends and family viewed it?

Personally, I believe that typing for Nietzsche, like everyone else, allowed one's thoughts to be conveyed much quicker than one can process. We see quality on paper. We see quantity on the computer. When we write on paper, we express creativity and ideas. We write because we are inspired, because we are already underway through the thinking process. When we sit down in front of a computer, we oftentimes complete our papers, stories, and ideas instantly. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the average time we spend on a single link is less than five minutes.

There is no depth in anything technological that replaces one means with another. In fact, we take away from the appreciation. How fast can we go through audio music when listening to music? And when we listen to the radio after our battery is dead, how many times do we catch ourselves looking to shuffle or change it because we're bored?

We lack the appreciation. The internet shouldn't replace books, or anything else. In fact, I believe we'd regain the "depth" we once attained in adventures with dragons and battles in starships in outerspace if more papers forbid the use of the internet. If we actually researched atoms and cellular structure, along with everything else we needed to learn, would the information stick better?

I believe so. Or at least that's my opinion. I think that no matter what, one should always have pad and pencil ready. One mustn't run dry the well of thought, and to put off retrieving the depths of our own ideas, we push away the true meaning behind our motivation.

At least that's what I think.