Cuban Art News explains that part of its mission is to bring overlooked aspects of Cuban art and cultural history to audiences in Cuba and beyond. With that in mind, they present Aldeide Delgado’s survey of women photographers in Cuba. As the site explains, “in 1899, the Cuban Census reported seven women photographers in the entire country. But within a few years, their numbers started to grow.” In “Uncovering a Hidden History – Women Photographers in Cuba,” Delgado uncovers their hidden history in the first half of the 20th century. She mentions photographers such as La Viuda de Gregorio Casañas (see her photo above), Lotte Grahn, Ulderica Mañas y Parajón, Teresa O’Bourke de Cossío, and Chea Quintana (see her photo below). Here are excerpts of this fascinating article:
The advent of the Republic of Cuba on May 20, 1902, led to the questioning of some existing paradigms of femininity. The involvement of women in the struggles for independence during the colonial period, their advancement during World War I, and the adoption in Cuba of an “American way of life” led to more modern thinking about women. These developments advanced, as fundamental suppositions, women’s right to vote and run for office, recognition of their parental authority, and basic equality. Thus, article 43 of the 1940 Constitution recognized the right of married women to civil life with no need for a marital license or authorization, and made possible their open participation in trade, industry, the professions, and the arts.
These social changes, and the technological innovations of the time—specifically, the appearance of smaller Kodak cameras—were of great importance in increasing women’s participation in photography. Although the 1899 Cuban Census Report (in the 26th Table of Professions, Arts and Crafts by Sexes, Races, and Origin), refers to only seven female photographers throughout the country, in the first half of the following century there were some 58 female photographers, professional and amateur.
Although present in the membership lists of the Cuban Photographic Club (1935-1962) or at the end of articles in such magazines as El Fígaro (1885-1929) or Social (1916-1933 / 1935-1938), these photographers have been largely forgotten. Their work is anonymous, and their life experiences too. But their names are emblematic of a creative production in which women have the possibility to tell their own stories—as subjects, not objects, of history.
In an attempt to trace a lineage of female Cuban photographers, I would like to draw attention to some founders. Information about the first comes via the publication of images in El Fígaro magazine on February 7 and July 11, 1909. I refer to la viuda de Gregorio Casañas (the widow of Gregorio Casañas). At the time, it was common for women working professionally to use titles like ‘Mrs.’ or ‘the widow of’, by which they could benefit from their husbands’ prestige and standing in a society that was eminently macho. This particular strategy, used by women photographers in the 19th century, tended to disappear in the 20th.
It is likely that la viuda maintained the photographic studio of her husband, Venezuelan photographer Gregorio Casañas, after his death. [. . .]
[Photos above: 1) One of the first known images by a woman photographer in Cuba: La Viuda de Gregorio Casañas, “Vista exterior del chalet que habitará con su familia el honorable presidente de La República” (Exterior view of the chalet inhabited by the honorable president of the Republic and his family), 1909. 2) Chea Quintana, Ingenio de Báguanos (Báguanos Sugar Mill), 1940. Courtesy Aldeide Delgado.]