Manny Iriarte: Cigar Photography
by David "Doc" Diaz
Monday, October 26, 2009
Born and raised in Santa Clara, Cuba, a young Manny Iriarte had the opportunity to travel the world as a member of the Cuban National Swim Team. The occasions to visit and live in other countries led him to recognize how limited the conditions and opportunities were in his native Cuba. These experiences abroad provided an understanding that would shape his future aspirations and, eventually, his country of residence.
But first, Manny would finish his education. In 1993, he graduated from La Universidad del Deporte and upon completion of his studies he decided pursue his childhood passion: photography. Realizing he would be unable to achieve his dream while living in Cuba, Manny left his homeland at age 30 and now lives and works in Miami, Florida.
I met Manny on one of his many photography assignments. Two years ago in the Dominican Republic I witnessed the amazing concentration and energy of a photographer who was working the cigar factories and fields of this leading country of cigar exports. Manny was moving with ease among the many subjects of his artistry. Whether it was the diversity of people from various countries around the world or the tens of thousands of cigars in various stages of manufacture, Manny was animated and in focus.
As I was attending a tour in one of the Dominican's fine cigar factories, Manny tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself. We exchanged business cards and have kept in contact over these past two years. In the interim, I have noticed that Manny's name has become synonymous with fine photography within the cigar industry. Whether it is shooting portraits of the cigar stars, or photographing their products, farms and factories, Manny Iriarte is slowly but surely becoming the photographer of choice for cigar-related assignments. It doesn't hurt that Manny hails from the quintessential cigar capital of the world, or that he speaks the traditional language of the cigar culture, or that he loves to smoke the very subjects of his photos. All this and more, makes Manny Iriarte the perfect choice for cigar photo-shoots.
Recently (and this was long overdue), I asked Manny if he would consider an interview for the Stogie Fresh Cigar Journal. He graciously accepted my invitation and what you will read below is just a snapshot of his life. I think you are going to enjoy this look into the life of a professional photographer, especially one who works often within the cigar industry.
DOC: Unlike many people who leave Cuba in their youth, you left when you were 30-years old. How difficult was it for you to leave your home and family and come to the United States?
MANNY: It is true that the majority of people that have left Cuba do so at an early age. And yet I left at the age of 30. This was evidently much harder psychologically due to the fact that I lived there for so many years and came alone leaving my family behind. At the age of thirty, I had already formed my life and way of living and had my mother, sister, niece, nephew and friends around me daily. Because of political factors in Cuba, my decision to leave was even more difficult because I did not know realistically the "exact date" when I would be able to see them again.
DOC: How and when did you become passionate about photography?
MANNY: First and foremost, having a passion in Cuba is exceptionally difficult. When I was young I was always able to see a good vision of photography through movies, magazines, post cards and more. But many years passed between the times I had these incredible views of photography until the time I actually had a camera. I was fortunate to receive my first camera (a 1973 Olympus OM-10) from a Spanish tourist who later became a great friend of mine. As a friend, he knew about my passion for photography and his gift was very special to me.
From that moment on I began taking pictures of landscapes, "crazy themes" and a few birthday parties, which helped me to make enough money to survive. Although I was able to partially carry out my interest for photography, I knew that achieving a dream of producing art photography while living in Cuba was not possible.
DOC: Who have been your greatest influences as a photographer and artist?
MANNY: My greatest influences are too many to name. One thing that impacted my life as a photographer was when I first took a few pictures of cigars with natural light and one of my wife wearing a guayabera shirt with a cigar and realized that they were truly works of art. This led to selling my first black and white photograph and made me realize that photography was not just a hobby; it was what I needed to devote myself to.
It seems that everyone can point to another person who served as a role model. Being Cuban, I have noticed other Cuban artists and their successes in this country, which have also served as incredible positive inspirations and influences in my life. Artists like Arturo Sandoval, Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan and the late Celia Cruz are just a few Cubans who have served as a mirror for me and have encouraged me.
DOC: When did you start smoking cigars and what type of cigars do you favor?
MANNY: Ironically when I was living in Cuba, I enjoyed a cigar here and there, but it wasn't a routine or a pleasure. I began smoking cigars in earnest when I officially started working professionally with big cigar companies, about five years ago. My favorite cigar is mild, medium to full. I prefer a cigar with better flavor rather than one that is too strong. I love the balance and consistency of a cigar. Sometimes after a good breakfast I take pleasure in smoking a cigar made in the Dominican Republic, but after a fine dinner or to conclude my day I prefer a Nicaraguan or Honduran cigar.
DOC: You are becoming known as one of the best cigar photographers out there. What factors do you think have led to your success as a photographer of cigars and cigar personalities?
MANNY: I would say that my passion, hard work and my eagerness to consistently only do and create the best have been major factors. I strive to create and maintain good business relationships as well as to develop sincere and genuine friendships. I truly believe that these traits have helped me to become effectively recognized by numerous cigar manufacturers and celebrities.
DOC: For the tech-geeks out there, what kind of camera and lenses do you use and what would you consider to be your most important "accessory"?
MANNY: I use exclusively Canon photography equipment. And, regarding accessories, no matter what brand or how much equipment someone has, I believe the most important accessory is "vision." Vision means having the perfect "blend" between creativity and purpose. A photographer can have the utmost in high technology and yet, without vision, it may amount to nothing.
DOC: Can you tell us about some of your most memorable experiences while working within the cigar industry?
MANNY: Without a doubt I have had many memorable experiences working in the cigar industry. Just to mention a few, I can recall working with Alan Rubin [Alec Bradley Cigars] all day long for over 8 hours to meet a deadline for Cigar Aficionado. It was stressful, exciting and the result was outstanding.
Another memorable moment was when I went to do the photo shoot of Orlando Padrón Sr. and Jorge Padrón for the cover of European Cigar Cult Journal and ended the day taking pictures of all nineteen members of the Padrón Family. It was a blast! In addition, I also recall going to Estelí, Nicaragua to do a photo shoot for My Father Cigars and, coincidently, Pete Johnson [Tatuaje Cigars] was also there. Not having much time, I told him I had only 45 minutes to do a photo shoot session and the resulting photographs became his image for his new national advertising campaign. I don’t know how that happened.
Though there are many more experiences to share, there is not enough time to share them all. Suffice it to say that I have been blessed with many wonderful experiences that will never be forgotten.
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus