Photography in Cuba, the Beauty of the ‘80s


Photo: Ramón Grandal

To be a photographer is the dream of thousands of people, a dream they don’t always choose to realize. Obstacles sometimes get in the way, be it the expensive nature of the art, or the person’s lack of real talent or their not having enough humility to learn from those who preceded them.

Anyone can click a camera (including those who are called “professionals”), but not everyone knows how to show in a frame what their eyes or their mind imagine.

Neither financial nor other constraints stopped Cuban photographers in the 1980’s. In those years when art began to break out of its mold in Cuba — after the gray days of censorship in the ‘70s — photography was not far behind in smashing its own old taboos. That’s why I have great admiration for everything that was done in those years.

Photo: Alfredo Sarabia

In 1982, for the first time in Havana, a series of female nude photos were put on display in an exhibit titled “Erosion,” by Juan Jose Vidal. In those days I was still too little to go to exhibitions by myself, but reviewing the “Fototeca” photo library here (which was created in 1986), I’ve been able to go through the catalogs and magazines that occasionally covered exhibitions back in those days. From this I’m able to appreciate the quality of the work of this or that photographer.

The human body and photography was becoming a reflection of what was happening in the country, and this relation between the nude and the camera became one of the newest fashions in the visual arts of the time.

I love the old photo documentaries, the subtle humor in the work of Humberto Mayol, Tito Alvarez, Mario Diaz, Mayra Martinez and Pedro Abascal, which capture the everyday moments of Cuban life. Likewise, there’s the “realism” of Christopher Herrera and Rene Peña (with their alluring domestic scenes). Then too, the issue of race was dealt with by Marucha and Juan Carlos Alom, while Jose A. Figueroa left us with his minimalist essays.

Photo: Alfredo Sarabia

Marta Maria Perez presented an interesting vision with her series “Para concebir” and “Memorias de nuestro bebé” (1985-1987) in which, among other concepts, she carried out a study on the vision of pregnancy through popular beliefs such as those of the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion.

I learned to appreciate the art of many of those photographers, with several of those I mentioned having worked in the ‘60s and ‘70s, while others started in the ‘80s and came of age in the 90’s.

Some went on to become my personal favorites, such as Ramon Grandal and his obsession with contrasts; and Alfredo Sarabia, who impressed me with his “magical realism” when I discovered this in his first exhibition “Algunas impresiones” in the Fototeca de Cuba at the end of the ‘80s.

It’s always good to remember and learn from those who open new paths, those who have the gift of “seeing” what most people can never manage to “show” with a click.


Caridad: If I had the chance to choose what my next life would be like, I’d like to be water. If I had the chance to eliminate a worst aspect of the world I would erase fear. Of all the human feelings I most like I prefer friendship. I was born in the year of the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the day that Gay Pride is celebrated around the world. I no longer live on the east side of Havana; I’m trying to make a go of it in Caracas, and I continue to defend my right to do what I want and not what society expects of me.

Caridad has 205 posts and counting. See all posts by Caridad

2 thoughts on “Photography in Cuba, the Beauty of the ‘80s

  • I think we can say that photography captures the spirit of its subject every bit as much as painting. Although it is important to learn from those who have come before, nevertheless, it is also important to go beyond the influences of those who have come before to find your own voice. My daughter’s high school teacher of photography once observed that it doesn’t depend on what equipment the photographer possesses…if one has talent, then even an ancient Kodak Brownie can produce a better work of art than a $7,000 Leika. (She often uses primative, self-constructed, “pin-hole” cameras). Still, good equipment helps (e.g. check out “Habana Vieja” or “El Bombillo” or “Vermont Cliff Jumping” on Vimeo). Of my many thousands of photographs, most are on the level of amateur “snap shots,” utterly forgetable. Still, like the proverbial ape at the a keyboard who, after a millenia of banging away, by chance somehow produces a poem, I remember one of those snap-shots, from 1994 or 1995, which somehow looked into the soul of my (then four-year-old) daughter, and somehow captured an essence which can be readily reflected in her to this day. Likewise, every now and again, I have been profoundly shaken to the depths of my soul by some of the photographs I have seen here on the pages of the Havana Times. Thanks, Yordanka, for sharing with us these almost forgotten treasures from the 1980’s!

Comments are closed.