Cuban Documentary Photography

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 30 — As part of the state exam I’m required to take to complete my degree in art history, I had to review the works of many Cuban documentary photographers who are professionally active in the contemporary world, though the beginnings of this date back to 1980s and ‘90s.

After making a brief outline on the subject, I was able to note the limited application of this medium on the Cuban art scene, at least if we speak in terms of critical approaches.

The evolution and development of documentary photography of unquestioned cultural value is almost kept in the dark in the specialized journals.

Names like Pedro Abascal, Raul Cañibano, Gonzo Gonzalez, Cristobal Herrera, Lissette Solorzano, Humberto Mayol and among others have built an important part of our historical memories through the lenses of their cameras.

Their photography seeks to show — from the human vantage point — everyday moments of a social life that reveal these as problematical, intense and controversial.

People, the center of attention for these artists, are exposed in their most varied hues.

In their images are profound metaphors that reflect the dreams, traditions and idiosyncrasies of a people torn apart by persistent misfortune.

The sharp portraits by Alexander Gonzalez taken in 2008 at Mi Cayito beach (a gay meeting place in Cuba) or the suggestive pictures of the devotees of Saint Lazarus captured by Cañibano (2003 – …), are among the many examples that attest to the commitment of these filmmakers within their contexts and to their contemporaries.

Although photography is never a mimetic copy of reality, since it is greatly influenced by its makers, in it is always found a dose of truth that is never completely lost – hence its value for a nation as a document of epochs.

Cuban documentary photography — despite the many rough periods that it has gone through owing to reoccurring resource shortages — has for a long time demonstrated its enormous importance for Cuban culture.

May this brief writing serve as a tribute to it.

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