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Like Trying To Drink From A Firehose: Behind The Scenes With TTL In Cuba

Right now we’re in the midst of a special season of the Adorama TV show, Through The Lens. TTL connected with the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective and went to Cuba to get a look at the island in transition. Blending a mix of local photographers and photojournalists with the members of the Alpha Imaging Collective, each episode explores different regions and the people and culture who call Cuba home.

One of the creative forces behind Through The Lens is filmmaker Sal Dalia. Alpha Universe had a chance to speak with Sal about TTL in Cuba and how the project came together.

Alpha Universe: How did you choose Cuba for this special season of Through the Lens?

Sal Dalia: I was thinking about like new seasons for Through the Lens and where the show should go and I wanted to try a new format. Traditionally, Through the Lens has featured photographers in their countries. In order to do that you need big photo communities to tap into. Places like the US for sure has one. Then we went to Japan and Hong Kong because there are very strong photo communities there. Later this year we’re going to shoot in Europe where there are big photo communities. There are a lot of other countries that are beautiful and are very interesting, but that really don’t have a well-established photo community and I wanted to explore those places too.

That's why I came up with the format of bringing this young generation of photographers into a country that wasn't as thoroughly explored yet. A place where there were still a lot of stories to tell. Cuba really checked a lot of those boxes.

So I proposed it to my colleagues. I said let's bring photographers over there and tell the story of the country through the eyes and the lens of these photographers. It’s different from everything else we’ve done with Through The Lens and I think it’s really interesting.

Alpha Universe: It seems like an especially interesting destination because Through The Lens has traditionally worked with photographers with big Instagram followings and Cuba is a place where there’s not even much in the way of Internet connectivity. It's not a place where everyone is just on social media all day long.

Sal Dalia: Right. There are photographers there, of course, but there isn’t the same kind of photo community that we’ve worked with elsewhere for the show. In fact during the course of the season, people will see that there's not really even a school for photography. It's basically just a few people who are passionate about photography, and they do photo booths or little weddings and things like that. We actually went to a sort of school of photography that's actually inside someone’s garage. That's the only school of photography in Havana, and it’s in a garage.

Alpha Universe; While there's not necessarily a big established community, is there a lot of interest in photography or is it just something that not many people are interested in doing?

Sal Dalia: Most of the people that we met are quite passionate about photography. Even though their daily job is to drive cars, or to do something totally different, they all have a passion for photography.

Also, because they live in one of the most visual countries in the world, photography, in a way, is part of their DNA even though they don't have a camera. That's why we were very happy Sony actually gave us cameras to give away to kids over there for an after-school program. You should have seen their faces once they started seeing the pictures that they were taking on the back of the camera. It was something so simple. That was eye-opening for us. You forget how good it is…that sensation of making a moment immortal? It was remarkable to see people living that for the first time. Their smile was like everything for us.

Alpha Universe: You said that Cuba's a very visual country, but there's less exposure to photography in general. Here in the US, we’re saturated with images, all day every day, and it’s just not like that in Cuba.

Sal Dalia: Definitely. Most of the people we talked with don't really have the same concept that we have regarding visuals and images. They just aren’t everywhere. So I think photographs are more special for the people in Cuba.

Alpha Universe: Overall, how did it go for you and the team in Cuba?

Sal Dalia: It was really one of the best experiences of my life. And not just my life, but I think almost everyone there in the crew. It was beyond our expectations. I was ready for the adventure, but what we found was really a once-in-a-lifetime journey. I really hope I can bring that out in the show, because it was just amazing. The people, the culture, the visuals…it was an extraordinary experience.

In Havana, we were saying, "you take one shot and you miss another 99 shots,” because all around you it’s just amazing. You take a photo, but you're missing the other 99 moments. Even with the Alpha Imaging Collective photographers and the TTL crew and me, we were just missing moments and trying to catch as much as we could. It was like trying to drink from a firehose.

Follow the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective on Instagram at #alphacollective. 

See more about Through The Lens In Cuba.

More about the gear that Sal Dalia and the TTL team used in Cuba.

The first 2 episodes of TTL in Cuba are live.