RIP Photographer Howard Bingham by Joe DiMaggio

To All the Ships at Sea,

© Kenneth Lambert, AP

I’d like to share a story. My son Dylan came home from school from 4th grade class with a unusual request. He asked that I get Muhammad Ali to call all the kids in his class.  I told him that would not be easy.  He said please, “I’d like you to do this.” I called my good friend Bert Sugar – “Mr. Boxing”  and the “Bertster” tried to reach out to Ali, but was unable to connect.  He said, “Joe on a conference call we will phone Howard Bingham” (Ali’s photographer.)  I had met Howard a few times but we were not close friends.  We spoke to Howard and he said he’d see what he could do. He asked me, what time and on what phone number?”  I told him approximately 1:05 on Thursday afternoon & gave him the number. I figured there was a very slim chance of this happening.  I was told the call went through the speakers and sure enough It was Muhammad Ali talking to all the kids in Dylan’s grade class.

There are very few people and this goes for Bert Sugar, Howard Bingham and Muhammad Ali that would extend themselves for a bunch of kids.  I’m blessed knowing people like this.  I might add, it is mainly due to people I’ve met through photography.  Bert Sugar died on my birthday a few years ago, Muhammad Ali died this year and now Howard Bingham died December 15 this year.  I casually mentioned this story to my friend Sam Garcia and he insisted I do a blog on Howard, which I was going to do anyway.  He said you can tell your people from me, that Howard was one of the sweetest most self effacing people he had ever met.  He always remembered everyones’ name, was a genuinely sweet individual, and one hell of a great photographer.

We’ll have a 10 count tonight for Howard.  Attached you will find a short video I did in Cuba a few weeks ago at Kid Chocolate Gym.  https://vimeo.com/193916645

© Joe DiMaggio All Rights Reserved

© Joe DiMaggio

Sam by © Sam Garcia

 

House Call in Old Havana

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© JoAnne Kalish

To all the ships at sea,

I know you’re going to find this hard to believe but Murphy even travels to Cuba! As a matter of fact, Murphy has a pretty much free reign in Cuba -one little slip on a cobblestone pothole and I went down like a ton of bricks. No big deal, I know how to fall… well, I did something to my back. When I went back to our pencion (B&B), our host family turned me on to some local doctors and, believe it or not, they made a house call. Not one, but two- a doctor and a technician. They came in with a tens unit, the typical doctor’s bag, and went through a whole protocol on trying to piece me back together again. Yes, there was ice then there was heat then a fabulous massage. We ran that tens unit on 220, it was really great. The interesting part about it was that the doctor was President Obama! Now I know you may find that hard to believe, the president of the U.S. stopped by my room to make sure I was okay. They pieced me up so I could finish my shoot in Old Havana but more importantly, it was just the way that they went out of their way to make sure that I was okay. Not to be outdone, on return to Miami and then to Boca Raton, I had a fabulous doctor in the ER at Boca West at 11 o’clock in the evening. A five hour wait was cut down to 20 minutes, then they gave me an epidural and prescription medicine for my back with a recommendation for acupuncture and a massage. I had the greatest massage I had ever had from a Taiwanese master masseuse and then the acupuncture was unbelievable. Everybody came together to piece Humpty Dumpy back together again… oops that’s not my name! It’s Dumpty Humpy….no, I think its Joe DiMaggio. It’s surprising what service you can get with a white beard, man when these people find out I’m 28 years old they’ll be angry! Medicine from Cuba, to Miami, to Boca, to New York- it’s all good. It’s actually all great!

A Communist State Moving Towards A New Beginning

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© Joe DiMaggio

One of the most exciting experiences we had on this trip to Cuba was watching the new entrepreneurial fever that you see in all aspects of Cuban life. We visited the first privately owned restaurant in Havana circa 1995. We met the beautiful owner, some of her children and all of her staff. Granted, they still have ties to the government but all of our businesses in the United States have ties, rules and regulations. The next morning, after leaving Kid Chocolate, we came across the very first government bakery in Old Havana. It was an amazing sight to be seen. The interesting part is that they sell out every day- every roll, every piece of bread is always sold out and then they start again for the next day. You have to love and respect the work ethic of the Cuban people.

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© Joe DiMaggio

All cuban people make the same amount of money, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a truck driver or an English teacher- that is $28 a month. Yes the education is free, yes the medical is free, yes there are equal food rations. In many ways, to a certain majority of people, that’s a very good thing. We as Americans have a difficult time understanding that. It’s not uncommon for a doctor to moonlight as a taxi driver or a guide and they can make that $28 in a day, which again does not seem like a lot of money to us but it is. It is a windfall for the Cuban people.

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© Joe DiMaggio

We also went to a small bar on the corner of the square- the service was great, the drinks were great, and the coffee was great. When asked how long they were open, they were proud to say that they opened in late August of 2016. Again, keep in mind that this is the beginning of capitalism. It is privately owned, sanctioned by the Cuban government, but the key is that it is privately owned and they can openly market their product by word of mouth. They put a tremendous amount of effort into their product. Entrepreneurs are looking to the future, and who do they emulate more than anyone else? Americans. I would be remiss to say (remember, no talk politics!) they’re very concerned about the changes that will happen after January 20th, 2017. I hope that the change in the government will not drive these people back 60+ years. All you can do is hope.

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© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

Cuba VIP???

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

Both my partner JoAnne Kalish and myself have put together the most fantastic VIP trip to Cuba ever. It was the best of the best and totally upscale across the board; the best part is that we brought it in for an extremely reasonable price. Actually, it was not a penny more than the regular trip. Now, that’s the good news. The absolute not so good news is the fact that two of our group members had multi million dollar business in Europe. The husband of another husband and wife team in our group had to go in for surgery. Last but not least, one of my long term friends had some serious concern about her father’s health. JoAnne and I made an executive decision to postpone the VIP trip to late April/early May of early 2017. When I went to JoAnne and said, “Let’s go to Cuba anyway, just the two of us,” she thought I was crazy. Anybody who knows me, however, knows that I am certifiably crazy and that it just goes with the territory. I called my very dear friend Malia Everette from Altruvistas and explained my situation. Malia is not only a brilliant businessperson but also a world traveler that has been to Cuba dozens of times. (Malia has some family there.) On the fly, she came up with one or two suggestions, one of which was to take advantage of a new B&B. She also lent us her driver and a beautiful young lady by the name of Cece who Malia calls my boss in Cuba. I have to tell you, with all the times I’ve been to Cuba, I’ve stayed in some of the best places, including the Nacional and Cohiba. This was definitively the best trip we ever had. It’s exactly the way JoAnne and I traveled from day one. When you stay with a family and you eat with a family and you listen to their advice, all of a sudden you go from a traveler to a member of the community, even if it’s only for a week or so. We were thirty feet off of Plaza Vieja, one of the most beautiful squares in Old Havana. By the last day, people were shouting at JoAnne and myself because they knew us; they weren’t looking for money, they just enjoyed our company. My agent in California always reminds me to ”never use the terms ‘in the old days’, ‘back in the day’, or ‘this is the way we did it in the beginning'” Well I’m not going to use any of these cliches. What I am going to say is that this was one hell of a great way to travel. This was first class all the way. Our hosts were Josefa Clemente Hernandez, Weneslao Ortiz Andres, and Jelena Ortiz Clemente. The father, Weneslao, was born in the same village and lived in the same mountains as Fidel and his wife, Josefa, was not only beautiful but extremely warm especially when there were a few minor problems. When I took a nasty fall and threw out my back, she made sure that I was well taken care of and that ice was available at night to soothe my aching body. Breakfast was also out of this world- every suggestion they made was spot on. JoAnne and I will continue with our trips to Cuba (presuming that the new government will continue with leaving the door open to one of the most beautiful islands in the world, not to mention some of the most beautiful and educated people in the Spanish speaking world.) 

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

If this blog seems a little painful, that is because it is. It seems that my back has developed into a full blown case of sciatica. I’ve never had a child, but my guess is this pain is worse than childbirth times ten. So, if I’m not hitting on all cylinders, forgive me. I will follow this blog up with three more. Consider this part one.

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

Hope to see you on the road again soon. By the way, we will incorporate everything we learned on this trip on our next VIP trip and there’s no doubt in my mind my sophisticated group will absolutely love it. 

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

Fidel

castro744-copyTo all the ships at sea,

There are certain subjects (boy, do I dislike that word) that you’re not supposed to talk about. Religion is one of them. Sexual orientation is another. Politics, oh my god- you never talk about politics. That can definitely come up and bite you on the ass and many other parts of your body. I would like to believe that I do not see color.

So where am I going with this? What I’m about to say is my opinion and I’m aware that I could be wrong. A long, long time ago, I’m of the belief that in 1957, ’58,  and ’59, Fidel Castro was a true hero. Unfortunately, sometime after 1960, his relationship with the United States went to hell in a hand basket. (Again, keep in mind that this is my opinion and not a fact.) I believe if Fidel had been a little bit more flexible and if the USA, the biggest, richest, and strongest country in the world, had taken a different point of view, it would be a radically different world. This would at least be the case 90 miles off the shore of Florida and maybe, just maybe, the beautiful, wonderful, lovely Cuban people would have grown with all of the technological advances to become a better, more complete society. It wouldn’t be communism, it wouldn’t be socialism, and it wouldn’t be fascism- it would be old fashioned capitalism.

Two days after we left Cuba, Fidel Castro died. I wish we were there to record the feelings of the people, but that ship sailed. We’ll be back early next year. It’s very difficult for Americans to quite understand the concept of this type of socialism. They remind me that it is a lot like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. I understand while the Russians were there, their standard of living was one hundred times better than it was under Batista. Unfortunately for them, when the USSR folded, the Cuban economy went south very quickly and was unable to work its way out of that hole. Not true. Many people have signed on for private business through the Cuban government- a little bit of capitalism, and once they get a taste of it they really like it. When you dovetail their education, their ability to do very hard work, and their dreams of the future, you come up with quite the “reaching for the stars” kind of attitude. Pretty amazing stuff. I hope and pray that the 800 pound gorilla cuts them a little bit of slack. These are really beautiful people who I think deserve a shot at the golden ring. Attached you’ll see a photograph of the first private restaurant on the island. 

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

Kid Chocolate Alias Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

In all my previous trips to Cuba, we never put boxing on our people-to-people trips or our humanitarian trips. On this VIP trip (Joe and JoAnne) Havana was seen up close and personal. I asked where the boxing gym was and they all said Kid Chocolate. Not wanting to be argumentative, I said, “Si!” Of course I know Kid Chocolate as Peter Quillin, a middle weight from Chicago. Well, there was another Kid Chocolate and that Kid Chocolate had a total of 152 fights and 136 wins. Kid Chocolate is now the name of the boxing gym in Old Havana. Of course, not doing my research properly, I showed up at the gym on a Sunday. I go to Gleason’s on Sundays all the time… well Kid Chocolate is not open on Sundays, so two security people who spoke a little English said to come back mañana. Sure enough we returned mañana and the security people, recognizing us from the day before, took us through the back door. I have to tell you, this was the smallest, darkest, and most cramped boxing gym I’ve ever been in- and I’ve been in a lot of gyms, some in bars and even in private homes. They didn’t have a ring! I spoke to the manager of the gym. We talked a little bit and I gifted him a few of my boxing photographs. We also met all of the boxers that were going to work out that day (all boxing in Cuba is amateur and amateur only- it wasn’t that way in the 20s, 30s and 40s, but it is that way now). My initial reaction was, ”Wow, this venue is impossible to make a good photograph in.” As one of my old friends would say, it was “o’dark 30.” JoAnne stuck her head in and said she’d sit outside. Well, we walked two miles to the gym and I wasn’t ready to walk two miles back so I said, “Let’s make a few frames.” I switched to black and white, went to jpeg fine and shot everything with a 24mm lens. I looked at a few of the images and they seemed to be acceptable. When I went out to get a breath of fresh air, JoAnne was meditating; I asked her if she would like to come back in and she did. Being the seasoned pro that JoAnne is, she made sure she knew exactly where I was shooting and made sure to stay out of my frame as I made sure to stay out of her frame. The two of us danced around this extremely small, extremely hot, extremely  dark gym and guess what? The photos turned out to be just fine. Fast forward a week later (the first time we got to a computer) and I looked at JoAnne’s work and I have to tell you it was amazingly great.I loved her images, which shouldn’t surprise me. I’d like to share these images with you as well. There’s no doubt we are going to go back. As a matter of fact, I may look for an angel or two to see if we can go back and make a documentary on Cuban boxing. The number one trainer is Carlos Manuel Miranda La O and the associate trainer is Michell.

Please take some time to read this Wikapedia page on the real Kid Chocolate from the 1930s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kid_Chocolate 

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

 

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© Joe DiMaggio

© JoAnne Kalish

© JoAnne Kalish

© JoAnne Kalish

© JoAnne Kalish

© JoAnne Kalish

© JoAnne Kalish

A People to People Photo Exchange: Cuba from Miami January 14-21, 2014

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Cuba from a Photographers’ Lens:

A People to People Photo Expedition:
Cuba from Miami January 14 to 21, 2014 with the Center for Cuban Studies, Photographers Joe DiMaggio & JoAnne Kalish and in Cuba, Photographer Rolando Pujól
Please contact me for additional information.