Photography in Cuba, the Beauty of the ‘80s

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, as Yorkanda Caridad writes in Havana Times.

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.

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 Martínez and Pedro Abascal, which capture the everyday moments of Cuban life. Likewise, there’s the “realism” of Christopher Herrera and René Peña (with their alluring domestic scenes). Then too, the issue of race was dealt with by Marucha and Juan Carlos Alóm, while José A. Figueroa left us with his minimalist essays.

Marta María Pérez 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 Ramón 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.

For the original report go to

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