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CreativeLive Student Story: Alain Gutierrez

by Kenna Klosterman
featured, photo & video, student stories

“Photography is a door to allow me to get into places, to meet people, and I love people, I believe in people.” ~ Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Cuban photographer Alain Gutiérrez has been documenting the daily life and stories of his country and its people for over twenty years. He first discovered photography was his artistic calling and visual language as a journalism student at university. Growing up in a humble working class family in Havana’s outskirts where basic goods were often scarce, the idea of owning a personal camera was an unattainable dream. Until one day, when a professor saw Alain’s deep and uncommon commitment to pursuing photography as his chosen form of journalism. This professor gave him an old film camera and the keys to a seldom-used photo lab, and introduced him to a magazine’s editorial photographer who taught him how to develop film and make prints.

This was one of a series of moments that Alain says changed the course of his life— times when he was struggling, yet someone saw his potential and offered him an opportunity. Alain never turns down an opportunity for growth despite the hard work it may take. He’s made it his mission in life to continually pay it forward, helping not only Cuban photographers, but all Cubans to realize their dreams through education, community and opportunity.


Want to start your own journey in Photography? This hand curated selection of classes will give you the tools you need to take your photography skills from novice to competent in no time — so you can tell the stories most important to you. Learn more > 


After earning his degree, Alain spent thirteen years as the arts Archive Manager and Photographer for a cultural center where he developed relationships with leaders in the Cuban arts community as he continued to develop his own body of work. Alain says there weren’t a lot of paying jobs in Cuba as a photographer. “The biggest challenge to managing a photography career: You have to fight frustrationyou have to fight and challenge people to understand the value of what you do as a professional. Many people in Cuba think that photography is just pushing a button.”

In time, American-owned OnCuba Magazine noticed Alain’s talent, and they hired him to be their Director of Photography, giving him further access to document important stories in Cuban history, exposing his work beyond Cuba. After photographing Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba, Alain was hired by the U.S. Embassy in Havana to photograph the opening of the U.S. Embassy in 2015 and OnCuba Magazine assigned Alain to document Obama’s historic 2016 Cuba visit. Alain says these continue to be the two most significant moments of his photography career and open doors for him to this day.

I first met Alain in 2014 when I began leading photography tours to Cuba with CreativeLive instructor John Greengo. I immediately fell in love with the beautiful island nation whose people are welcoming, strong-willed, and full of resolve to find solutions to everyday challenges. Alain exemplifies this Cuban spirit in everything he does, always thinking of others before himself.

So when I hand-delivered a hard drive full of CreativeLive classes to Cuba, Alain was the perfect person to help me determine how to make the greatest impact on creatives with limited resources. We gifted over 500 hours of CL education to his photography professors from his college days who’ve now taught over 1,000 students at their humble photo academy run out of their one-car garage. Alain’s advice to young photographers echoes our core belief that everyone wins when artists embrace community over competition: “Be honest and share with friends. Try to work in groups—you have to keep your individuality of course, but once you have a group of fellows, work together and try to push yourselves together. That’s the only way to be better.”


Want to start your own journey in Photography? This hand curated selection of classes will give you the tools you need to take your photography skills from novice to competent in no time — so you can tell the stories most important to you. Learn more > 

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A people-person with a vibrant personality, Alain was building a name for himself creating off-the-beaten path experiences for photographers who wanted to tell authentic stories beyond the obvious tourist hot spots. At the same time, Alain discovered his love for food photography and started a food blog to share Cuban culinary traditions and the people behind them. This is not an easy prospect in Cuba, which is still on the short list of countries with the least open Internet access. Alain never imagined that his food blog would bring Emeril Lagasse to choose him as his local culinary guide for Emeril Eats the World: Forbidden Cuba. That experience confirmed for him the value of self-publishing in whatever medium he could, and encouraged his fellow photography community to do the same.

The increasing number of WiFi hotspots in the past couple years have enabled Cubans to consume and communicate more information. On a trip to Havana in 2015, I encouraged Alain to jump on the Instagram bandwagon as I noticed very few Cuban photographers were publishing their work on the most photo-centric social media app. Alain started using the app to capture the stories of Cuba that resonated for him personally that he couldn’t use in the magazines. He could express himself and his opinions through photos and this experience he says “changed his life,” leading to more opportunities.

Cuba

As a photojournalist, Alain uses images as poetry to enlighten his audience about his culture. As he says, “Photography is a commitment to your society—you are a time artisan.” Alain recently completed months of work to self-publish his first book based on his Instagram visual storytelling called The Privilege of Being Here, a proud accomplishment for someone who once cut off and sold his long hair because he didn’t have money to take the bus to work.  

Looking forward, Alain says, “My dream is to have my own photography company or agency to give others jobs in photography.” And he’s doing just that, opening doors for other photographers the busier he gets. The harder he works, the more work he creates in turn for young photographers to gain experience and grow. When he sees other Cubans who have a strong work ethic struggling, he will go out of his way to help just as people have done for him. Walk around Havana with Alain, and you’ll no doubt meet numerous people that know him and will greet him on the street with a smile.

Cuba

Cubans are some of the most innovative people that I know because they’ve had to be. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and when we dream we can be as creative as we want. Regarding the future of Cuba, Alain says, “Now we understand that we can work for our dreams. Everyone around us is helping us and encouraging us to continue with that. That’s the reason that is going to change our country—our people’s dreams.”

Alain’s story reminds us and all those around him, “To dream is free.”

Cuba


Want to start your own journey in Photography? This hand curated selection of classes will give you the tools you need to take your photography skills from novice to competent in no time — so you can tell the stories most important to you. Learn more > 

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Kenna Klosterman

Kenna is the Lead Host of CreativeLive. She's a travel photographer, tour leader, and connects the dots between members of our CL global community. @KennaKPhoto