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RIT photographers shoot Cuba

It's a land that has long been considered off-limits, but in February a group of RIT photography students and faculty members traveled to Cuba for a week-long assignment. The trip was part of the curriculum for Photography in Cuba, a first-of-its-kind course offered by the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.

Denis Defibaugh, associate professor of applied photography, and Dawn Tower DuBois, assistant professor at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, taught the course. "We thought that, as photographers, it would be a great opportunity for students to visit a completely different culture," Tower DuBois says.

"Group Shot"
Denis Defibaugh
Initially, it seemed unlikely the idea would work. Without diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, taking students there appeared risky. Defibaugh and Tower DuBois researched the idea further and discovered a handful of American colleges and universities that have successfully offered educational opportunities in Cuba. That information helped to reassure RIT administrators, who granted their approval.

Next, organizers were required to seek formal permission from the U.S. government. After applying to the Department of the Treasury, the college received a two-year license for travel to and from Cuba.

Upon arriving in Cuba in February, the group wasted little time getting acclimated. "We took a tour of Havana, first by bus and then on foot," says Defibaugh. "It was a really good way for the students to get a sense of their surroundings."

Other excursions included a baseball game, a day at Santa Maria Beach and a tour of a Cuban cigar factory. During the remaining time, students were free to explore on their own. Defibaugh says each of them made a point of getting acquainted with the residents.

"The students felt there was a real vitality to the Cuban people," he states. "I was really happy with the number of interactions they had going to peoples' homes, walking around with them and engaging them in conversation."

Christina Fallara, a fourth-year student, was initially surprised that the Cubans were so approachable. She focused her creativity on compiling "street portraits" to capture the essence of their lifestyle.

"You're certain to learn things any time you go and deal with people of a different culture," Fallara says. "I think it's important to travel to different areas when possible and see what life is like outside of our own reality. It helps make you more open-minded."

Faculty coordinators say that type of feedback reflects the success of this journey.

"Many of the photographs they've taken are absolutely beautiful," remarks Tower DuBois. "The images truly illustrate the charm and exuberance of the Cubans and their society. I'm really proud of how our students responded to this opportunity."

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