New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Cuba in Revolution

Cuba in Revolution
Ed Barnas
Raúl Corrales, “La Caballeria” , 1960

Occupying the lower level space at ICP and co-curated by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis and Guest Curator Mark Sanders, Cuba in Revolution presents a broad mix of images of Cuba from the early 50’s thru the late 60’s from the collection of the International Art Heritage Foundation.

Among the many photographers included are Cubans, Alberto Korda, Raul Corrales, Constantine Arias, Osvaldo Salas alongside international photojournalists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rene Burri, Burt Glinn, Elliott Erwitt, and Flip Schulke.

The opening photos by Arias from the early 50’s set the stage with a mix of images of tourists, Havana nightlife, student demonstrations, bodies in the street, and the poor. (Somehow the image of a suited adult tourist holding a prop pistol reminded me of Diane Arbus’ image of the young boy with a toy grenade.) Moving along chronologically come the images of Fidel and his compatriots after the failed July 26th movement, emerging from prison to go back to the hills to continue the struggle. Some images from this sequence stick in my mind: a fund-raising Fidel sitting at a table by a pile of cash in 1955 (Salas) and Che sipping mate in the jungles of Santa Clara province in 1958 (Antonio Nunez Jimenez). [The latter makes an interesting contrast with an image from the following year of Che sipping mate in his bedroom at the La Cabana fortress (Andrew St George, in the portrait section.]

Images of the entry into Havana of the triumphant rebels on New Year’s Day 1959, the street fighting, the speeches, and the less photogenic images of diplomacy and the cooling relationship with the US are there from both Cuban and non-Cuban perspectives. Among the less known images are Fidel’s visits to Russia (Korda) and the Cuban view of the Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs (Mario Collado & Sergio Canales) along with a newsreel geared for the home front.

One room is devoted to photos of the leaders of the revolution – not just Fidel and Che, but also Camilo Cienfuegos who died early on in an airplane crash. These range from portraits of the central figures that might hang in an office to journalistic images showing the common touch which might be taken on a campaign stop : Che and Fidel fishing; Fidel pitching for Los Barbados; Fidel, Camilo, and others standing and watching a baseball game. Burri’s sequence of Che being interviewed for Look magazine during the early 60’s reminded me of later interviews with dot-com entrepreneurs in the 90’s. Just outside this room was another short film – of Fidel visiting an old man - sounding very much like a politician on campaign.

 by unidentified photographer.
Andrew Saint-George, “Che Guevara relaxing in his room at La Cabaña fortress drinking Mate”, 1959.”

Along a long wall were a number of photos of the Cuban people from the early 60’s, mostly in revolutionary celebration and continued vigilance in defense of the revolution (e.g., Cartier Bresson’s “Valentine’s Day 1963” - a young woman seated with a rifle in front of a store window display). However, the first image in the sequence was Korda’s image of “La Nina de la Muneca de Pato Palo,” a child from the countryside whose lot was not much improved by the revolution. Opposite the end of this sequence is a mid-60’s propaganda film comparing the Beatles craze to a group of monkeys (mirroring the Soviet efforts of the time) as a segue to a selection of images from Jose Figueroa’s series “My Sixties” of a clandestine Cuban counterculture and “Exile” showing the shrinkage of his family as relatives emigrated.

Of particular interest is the section on Alberto Korda’s “Guerrillero Heroico” image of Che from March 1960. Here the viewer is presented with a full roll contact sheet, a full frame enlargement of the original horizontal image, and the vertically cropped version that became such a political icon after his death (thanks partly to the poster produced by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli).

This display is on a wall outside the room devoted to “Che: Death & Rebirth of an Icon” which contains a number of prints as well as the full contact sheets of Brian Moser’s photos of the arrival and examination/display of Che’s corpse in Villagrande, Bolivia shortly after his death in October 1967. Display cases of contemporary periodicals in this and the other rooms provide further context to the photos and the period.


Cuba in Revolution


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