JoyProject podcast: The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

Smartphones have turned all of us into photographers. We take pictures of our friends and family, our food, pets, art, selfies, sunsets, gorgeous vistas. If we can see it, we’re taking photos of it. Smartphones changed the way we see and capture our world and experiences. 

Less than a year before the pandemic started, photographer Amy Selwyn gave herself a gift that completely and unexpectedly changed nearly every aspect of her life. A trip to Cuba not only transformed her career, but it gave her a totally new way of seeing the world and her place in it.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. As she adjusts her life to make room for making more art, she’s downsizing her home. That inspired me to re-arrange my own home and declutter my life. Apartment Therapy is an Instagram account and website that offers fantastic ideas on how to organize and decorate a small space for it’s beautiful and functional.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– How Amy got interested in photography
– Traveling to Cuba and falling in love with street photography
– The joy of being a beginner
– Discovering and living out your passions at any age
– Mental health and the artist mindset

Links to resources:
– Amy on Instagram – @amyselwynphotographer
– Amy on Twitter – @amyselwyn
– Amy’s website –
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website –
– Apartment Therapy –

About Amy:
Amy Selwyn is a writer and fine arts photographer, and an utterly devoted dog mom to a sassy and adorable French Bulldog. 

Amy spent over 35 years working for and with news organizations around the world, including the BBC, The New York Times, the European Broadcasting Union,  and The Associated Press. Stories and storytelling are a lifelong passion. 

Amy is currently in a 3-year MFA program at Maine Media in Rockport, Maine, studying photography. This month, Amy will have one of her works in a juried show at the South East Center For Photography in Greenville, South Carolina. 

Originally from Hartford, CT, Amy and her beloved pup are currently based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 


Wonder: An artist at work in Trinidad, Cuba

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Photo I took of an artist at work in his studio in Trinidad, Cuba

I snapped this photo in Trinidad, a city in central Cuba that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was late at night and the only light that flowed onto the street was from his studio. He was hard at work despite the late hour, and that resonates with me. We create when and where we can,  and it’s often in these quiet, solitary moments that we can most clearly channel our inspiration and get it all down so that we might share it with the world.

I love to see artists at work in their environments because the location invariably has some impact on the art. Is an artist trying to create his way out of an unfortunate situation? Is she inspired by what surrounds her as she creates? Does he create in spite of the environment or because of it? I love art for this reason: there are always more questions.


Wonder: 19 (Cuban) seconds for a photo

The duo who took my photo in 19 (Cuban) seconds

“Get an old-fashioned photo!” the young man called to me in Parque Central in Old Havana.

“How long does it take to develop?” I asked.

“19 seconds.”

I should have known better. Everything in Cuba takes a long time. Every. Little. Thing. No one is in a hurry to do anything or go anywhere. In Cuba, even time takes time. People say it’s frozen in time in the 1950s. I’d go back much further than that.

What I didn’t realize is that we weren’t paying for a photo. We were paying for the experience of having the photo taken. An old man and a young man had a ramshackle camera, the likes of which I’d never seen. Jerry rigged from old parts gathered from discarded items (reduce, recycle, reuse, again and again and again is a way of life in Cuba), we watched in wonder over the 19 minutes, not the 19 seconds it took to snap and develop the photo. The show was worth every penny if the 2 bucks we paid, and then some.

This was always the way all over Cuba. You don’t pay for goods, you pay for the experience you gain and the time of the people you meet gathering the goods. You invest in the people and their ingenuity. Once you make that mental leap, waiting isn’t an inconvenience nor a chore in Cuba. It’s an honor, a gift, and a pleasure.


Wonder: Alex, the Beyoncé of Ice Cream in Havana

Alex, the Beyonce of Ice Cream in Havana
Alex, the Beyoncé of Ice Cream in Havana

On a crowded corner of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, you’ll find the best ice cream you’ve ever had. Coco Glace is nothing more than coconut milk, coconut water, and pieces of coconut served in a half coconut shell and it’s incredible. I devoured it with my new friends on our last day in Cuba under a brutal sun and sky-high humidity.

Alex, the maker of Coco Glace, is pleased to tell you that he loves Madonna and Beyoncé, hates Taylor Swift, loves America, hates Chris Brown, loves being gay, and will see you on Broadway as soon as he sells enough Coco Glace to get himself out of Cuba. He calls himself the Beyoncé of ice cream, and in my humble opinion he isn’t exaggerating. Coco Glace is incredible. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since eating that first marvelous spoonful.

Cuba was full of simple pleasures like Coco Glace. Nothing there is extravagant, but it’s honest, pure, and real. There are no additives – in the food, in the people, or in their way of life. There are no pretenses. People and things are exactly what they appear to be, and in this day and age that is a triumph.

After finishing my ice cream, I made my way back to Alex and told him how amazing his ice cream is.

“Mami, ju don’t know how happy you just made me,” said Alex. I love ju. I love America. I’ll see you there soon! Look for me. Tell Beyoncé!” I just smiled and said I would. So Beyoncé, consider yourself told that you have a Cuban compatriot who puts on a show for all his customers and he is fabulous.

I hope someday I’m strolling down the Great White Way and that I look up and see Alex’s joyful smile and unapologetic moxie plastered all over a giant marquee. And I hope Coco Glace is one of the many things we exchange with our Cuban neighbors. Maybe Beyoncé could make both those dreams come true.


Wonder: Serve your inner child

Picture I took of a young child and a dancer in Korimakao, a small artist colony for young people outside of Viñales in north-central Cuba

“The most important people in Cuban culture are children,” said our guide. And that made me tear up. What if that were true everywhere? What kind of world would we have then?

So much of our society is geared toward growing up. It’s a society built by and for adults, and for turning children into them. We don’t always celebrate children. We often don’t stand up for them. We don’t let them be who they are, but rather we shape them into who we want them to be.

Think about how we each treat our own inner child. Many times, we squash him or her. Too often we don’t let ourselves try things just for the fun of it, or fail at things, or experiment, or doing anything without it having some kind of practical purpose or end goal.

Maybe that’s why the connected world is flipping out over the mom in the Chubacca mask. She exhibited unbridled delight. When was the last time we all did that? Why have we given up on pure joy? Why isn’t that our goal? Why are we slaves to accomplishment, and not our own happiness? Let’s change that.


Wonder: The dream of Cuba

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Taxis in Havana

I got back into the U.S. yesterday after 10 days in Cuba. It was an adventure of color, texture, and movement. A time to learn, reflect, and grow in directions and in ways that I haven’t done in a long time. Completely disconnected from the internet, my phone, and the news, I could just live each day.

I stepped back into a time that was at once simpler and more complex. Parts of the journey were joyful and parts of it were stressful. Now that I’m back home, I wouldn’t trade any of it. It all led me to an increased level of awareness of opportunity, potential, and hope available to all of us.

Many pictures and stories to follow…


Wonder: The upside of exhaustion

My mind’s a little numb. My housing situation, work, and a hectic schedule have worn me out. So with my last bit of energy, I’m packing up my bags and flying off to Cuba where I won’t have any cell reception nor access to internet for over a week. It’s going to be an adventure – a time-warp in a foreign language, set in a foreign land, and surrounded by people I don’t know. And all I’ll have to capture my thoughts are pen, paper, and a camera.

In times like this I think it’s good to have a numb mind. I don’t have any space to worry about anything. I’m just going to hop on a plane and have a great time no matter what. I’m too tired to do anything but. While I wish I had some more energy, I have a feeling that the white sand, sun, and bright colors of Cuba will be exactly what I need. And I’m open to them. I’m ready to give myself over to the experience and whatever comes with it. This is the upside of exhaustion.


Wonder: Going to Cuba

People have asked me what I’ll be doing in Cuba next month. I just got the rundown of my itinerary. I can hardly believe that this is really happening! I’ll be taking pictures and sharing stories while I’m there (provided I can access wi-fi), and I’m hoping I can convince many of you to travel to Cuba, too! I’m so grateful to Yolo Travel, a local D.C. business, for organizing everything!

Arriving in Miami a day early to enjoy one of my favorite U.S. cities! The flightto Havana leaves very early the next morning so I’ll be relaxing and resting up for the week ahead.

Day 1: Arrive in Havana early in the morning via charter flight. Spend the day and evening exploring Old Havana with dinner at a private restaurant. Then exploring the nightlife that the city has to offer.

Day 2: History tour of Old Havana. Visit to the fishing village Jaimanitas and the home of artist Jose Fuster, who has turned most of his home and most of the surrounding neighborhood into a work of art with mosaic tiles.

Then we’ll take a 4-hour drive to the scenic village of Vinales. Caving, hiking, and exploring the many agriculturally-rich fields are all on tap. Vinales is known for its local music scene so I’ll make sure to check that out!

Day 3: Tour of an organic farm in Vinales and meeting local farmers in the area. We’ll also learn the art of cuban cigar making from an expert cigar maker. In the afternoon, we’ll take a traditional Cuban cooking class with local chefs using all local ingredients.

Day 4: Drive to Cienfuego to tour that city and then make a visit to the Bay of Pigs. We’ll check out the museum there and then go snorkeling.

Day 5: We’re off to the colonial city of Trinidad, the best preserved city in Cuba. We will be able to sit with and learn from the caretaker of the Afro-Cuban temple to Yamaya. Trinidad is known to have the biggest live music scene and we’ll be exploring that along with taking salsa dance lessons.

Day 6: Hike to waterfalls outside of Trinidad in the Valley of Sugarmills – the perfect white sand beaches I’ve been dreaming about in Cuba for so long! Options to go snorkeling, scuba diving, and horseback riding. Then it’s back to Trinidad to relax and explore. That night we’ll have a bonfire on the beach and a meal prepared by local chefs in Trinidad.

Day 7: We’ll visit Manaca-Iznaga plantation in the Valle de los Ingenios where we will learn more about Cuba’s slave trade. Then we head to Santa Clara to learn about the life of Ernesto Ché Guevara, one of the most famous Cuban Revolutionaries. We’ll have lunch at a small family farm near Santa Clara and head back to Havana to enjoy a fun evening in the city.

Day 8: We have all day and night to explore Havana and take in everything that the city has to offer.

Day 9: We have breakfast and say goodbye to our guides and drivers before heading back to the U.S.