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“The stillness of Cuba lends itself to the photographic image,” says Lauren Bulbin ’15, who visited the Caribbean nation last January as part of MC’s Short-Term Study Abroad Program. “The faded beauty of the landscapes and architecture so reminiscent of old art invite you to capture and narrate the thousands of stories hiding beneath the surface. I fell hopelessly, desperately in love with every inch of Cuba from the lush verdant landscapes to the vivacious streets of Vedado [an urban district in Havana].”

Bulbin, now a photography major at the Maryland Institute College of Art who will finish this spring, recently unveiled her portraits of Cuba—her first photo exhibit, Optimistas (Optimistic) at the Cultural Arts Center at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus.

“My favorite part was being able to walk around and have your own time and space. They [MC trip guides] gave us the freedom to do what we wanted and needed to do. We also had structured moments of education that were fascinating.” During their time in Cuba, the 25-member travel group immersed themselves in the culture, the food, and the history. They also got to know Cuba’s residents.

The people she met in Cuba made an indelible impression on Bulbin—and inspired the name of her Optimistas exhibit. The trip leaders agree. “If there’s something that’s not working, they think about how they can fix it. They have limited resources, but they’re very optimistic about moving forward,” says Guillermo Laya, collegewide assessment center director, who co-led the trip with David Lott, a professor in the English Language for Academic Purposes program. Lott said, “You see this poverty but then you get a sense of how resourceful people are. Optimistas, I think, is an appropriate title in many ways for the exhibit.”

Bulbin chose to present her exhibit in a different way. Rather than framing her photographs, she used a fabric called LexJet Print-N-Stick. Her professors introduced her to this technique used at the Museum of Modern Art.

“It’s a fabric adhesive, it can be moved, changed, taken from the wall and put onto a new wall. It’s extremely resilient, much like the people I photographed.”

As Lott looked over the photographs at Optimistas, he talked about the potential for a transformative experience these trips offer: “You can be in a place and bring it with you in an artistic way. A trip can be a catalyst for a book, an exhibit, a career. Folks don’t realize when they sign up, but there are inspirational things that can happen, and in a small way they can actually change your life.”

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