Index World Press Photo
January 2006 | Edition Three     

In each issue of Enter, we put a set of identical questions to people who have gone on to make their names in photojournalism after attending a World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass, named after the late magazine editor and honorary chairman of World Press Photo.

These five-day events, introduced in 1994 to encourage and train young photographers, are normally held every November so that a dozen young practitioners from all over the world can meet and learn from some of the world's top professionals.

Our subject for issue three is Cristóbal Herrera Ulashkevich, who attended Masterclass in 1999.

Born 35 years ago in Havana, Cristóbal currently lives in Costa Rica after he was refused re-entry into his home country of Cuba at the end of 2004.

He had twice sent for publication pictures of Fidel Castro after he had fallen - the first time, he says, the Cuban leader had appeared weak and vulnerable in the media. He was "warned" after the first occasion in 2001 and had to hide to transmit the second pictures in 2004.

Cristobal, how did you get started in photography and what was your biggest break?

One day, when I was 20, I found a camera by the edge of a swimming pool at a hotel in Havana. Since the owner didn't show up, I supposed the camera was a gift from destiny and began shooting my family. In a week or so, I was bored of these pictures and was given some black and white film. I began to walk the streets of Havana looking for situations that attracted my attention. When I became interested in Press work, I joined the photo staff of Bohemia, Cuba's oldest and most famous magazine. When, in 1999, I was selected to participate in the Joop Swart Masterclass of the World Press Photo foundation my career was given a boost as my work became acknowledged and I was asked to join the Associated Press bureau in Cuba. With the support of the agency, I did some of my most interesting projects in Cuba and abroad.

What qualities does a top photojournalist need?

Human sensibility, vision to find good stories, determination and the most important of all - good luck.

What is your most memorable assignment?

A personal one I developed about communism in Cuba. It is called Cuba Dura which has a double meaning; for dura, in Spanish, means tough and at the same time, it means Cuba lasts. It is intended to capture the surrealism of a communist regime on the Caribbean island - the way it affects people and, of course, the way warm Cubans interpret what was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the cold Europe in the middle of the 19th Century. This project is giving me a lot of satisfaction but at the same time punishment. Today, I am deprived of my right to live in Cuba for some pictures I took of Castro last year.

Are you – or will you ever be – fully digital?

I am 50% digital and 50% film. I prefer to use digital to shoot color because I find the quality superior than when using film. But for black and white, I prefer film for the grainy texture which is more interesting and poetic.

What essential equipment do you travel with?

Any film camera with a 28mm lens and as much film I can carry. To shoot color, I use a digital body with a 20 mm lens. In addition, I always travel with a 50 mm macro that I never use. Currently I am experimenting with Canon EOS.

If there is one piece of advice you would give to a photojournalist starting out on a career, what would it be?

Take pictures for your own satisfaction, follow your instincts, break the rules, and when complaining, ignore the editors ... if you survive, then you have a lot of potential.

Which of the pictures you selected is your personal favorite and why?

The picture of the funeral. This image inspired me to make the essay “Cuba Dura”. I knew my grandfather had died and I went to his house. There I found him lying on bed, next to him were grandma and other relatives and neighbors, and on top of the scene, there was, as always, the omnipresent image of Castro. I asked grandma for permission to take some pictures. When that roll film was developed, I was so impressed with the symbolism of the images that I devoted most of my time to take images concentrating on communism. This is one of the most dearly loved photography I have.

Next to whom would you like to sit in an airplane going where?

Next to Isabel, my wife, and going back to Cuba.

What ambitions do you have left?

I am obsessed with communism; with the nonsense of it. So I would love to travel all over the world portraying the interpretation of this theory in the different countries where it was or is still applied. It is not only a professional ambition but a personal one because it is a way to understand my roots as my mother is Russian and my father Cuban. They are both communists and, although married for about 40 years, they still have different approaches.

More on the Masterclass


Fidel Castro, 2001

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Cristóbal Herrera Ulashkevich

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