Robaina's plantation

Tuesday 31 March 2015

Fototeca de Cuba (Plaza Vieja) Habana Vieja

                 I've walked by this building so many times without going in that I can't remember how many, that is to say that I've come to Plaza Vieja many times for other reasons. Usually I'll go to the Bar in the corner that brews their own beer or the Bar at the other corner that make their own coffee. This time I finally decide to go in and was very happy I did. There was some great stuff to see and as always I learned something new. The written material below was taken directly off the Fototeca website and translated as best as I could and omitting a few things.

               The Fototeca de Cuba is an institution belonging to the National Council of Plastic Arts of the Ministry of Culture of Cuba. Founded by the prominent Cuban photographer and researcher María Eugenia Hague (Marucha), November 15, 1986, in La Habana Vieja. It is nestled in a eighteenth century mansion, facing the Plaza Vieja, one of the oldest in the city, underwent remodeling in the nineteenth century, was restored in 1986 and belonged to Beatriz Pérez Barroto. Inside the courtyard is a mural by ceramic artist Marta Arjona on a design by the outstanding painter and ceramist Amelia Peláez
               It's vaults contain an incredible memory of over 150 years of Cuban photography, with approximately 35,089,000,498,000 photographs, a few negatives and a good collection of books, documents and catalogs of Cuba and other countries.
               It's not only a center that promotes, preserves, exhibits and discloses Cuban photography, it also hosts, in their exhibit rooms, specialty projects. Among its functions, it plays an important role in organizing lectures, seminars, courses, theoretical and practical workshops given by prestigious personalities who put, Cuban professionals and the general public, in contact with the actual work of the manifestation of the visual arts. On file, are available photographic images and curriculum by leading foreign photographers, that have been donated to the national heritage, by their authors.
               The institution has two spaces for exhibits and was designed this way from the beginning. Upstairs is the gallery Mary E. Hague, which favors the more established artists, mainly Cubans. However, sometimes they may put a foreigner's work in there as well. Joaquín Blez, the gallery located on the ground floor, is reserved for emerging artists, but that too may differ at times. The schedule for each conceives a monthly exhibition space, but sometimes the exhibition time is extended to two months, either by the importance attached to the project or for logistical reasons (especially Joaquín Blez the lower space). Some pictures may be accompanied by printed material. The Fototeca does it's best to promote talented young people by having two calls for all resident Cuban photographers in the country to bring their best work forward to create a Fellowship among the artists and ensure the continuity of the country's visual memory.

             The mission of the Fototeca de Cuba is to contribute through a systematic and specialized work, the development and assessment of Cuban photography as a form of expression of our national culture. Preserve, promote, display and disclose the photographic heritage contained in the institution's collection and the various manifestations of Cuban photography, based on the simultaneity of values in the same, in its documentary, testimonial, historical and artistic aspects; both in Cuba and internationally.
           Similarly a mission to bring the public through various communication strategies, cultural promotion, etc. and display the best values in international photography in Cuba, encouraging learning and appreciation of photography among photographers and the general public.

Plaza Vieja
Calle Mercaderes #307
phone: (7) 8622530

            I'm going to start with the exhibit on the upper floor, seeing that he's such a prominent photographer. I have seen his photographs without knowing they were taken by him, I'm sure there are more. Below are just a handful.
            Osvaldo Salas was born in Havana on March 29, 1914, started Art School there in 1926 but didn't finish. While he was still a young man he moved to New York and became a welder in order to support his family. In around this time is when he became interested in photography but it would be a few years before he got his hands on a camera. In 1943 he began working in the laboratory of the International Telegraph and Telephone Company where they had a Photography Club. In 1946 he won his first prize at the club. Shortly after that he opened a studio in Manhattan and at about this time he felt the allure of Photojournalism. During the 50's is when he became famous or at least it's when the public began taking notice of his pictures as he had the good fortune of being able to take them of some the greats like; Marilyn Monroe, Dali, Joe Di Maggio, Rocky Marciano & Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. He was working for newspapers in the U.S., Argentina, Mexico and Cuba. He lived in the United States for more than 30 years before finally returning to Cuba with his family on Jan.2, 1959. He died on May 5, 1992.

With Hemingway 1960

     Some say that the Osvaldo's specialty was the portrait which is a terminology that's more extensive than is usually understood. Portrait in its simplest form is a simple face. The virtue of taking over all, was his way of seeing the context of the action or event. A visual synthesizing of an event, going directly to the topic at hand, eliminating its general context and concentrating on the bottom line.
     Throughout his work there are dozens of examples of his vision and interpretation. The image "With Hemingway" (pictured below) is a living example of the above. That meeting in May 1960, was the first time (and only) that Fidel and Hemingway met. There were hundreds of people, countless journalists, cameramen and photographers....however, the vision of Osvaldo concentrated on the details of the meeting, everything else did not exist except in a blur. Korda, the famous photographer that followed Fidel around during and after the Revolution and who took the Iconic picture of Che Guevara which was used on the side of a building in the Plaza de La Revolucion, commented about the capture. It's not so much a portrait, as it's a symbol and visual document of fact, taken in its most direct form. Not the environment or the crowd, no commotion or movement, no interest in any alien element, just right to the point, the two legends
(as written beside the photo, somewhat translated)

Three Brothers 1963

     Osvaldo was a photographer who knew what the camera saw was not the final image. He believed that the camera work was one part and the editing or darkroom was the complement and definitive work. Three brothers, as far as is known, is the only picture where the three leaders, Fidel, Che and Raul appear together. It was taken at the Jose Marti airport in 1963. The composition concentrates on the three figures and in the darkroom blurs the aircraft that are in the background, collected from the original negative. Over the years this picture has been the subject of many speculations on where it was taken and under what circumstances. The original negative and notes that were placed in an envelope and safeguarded at 'La Cabana' were likely discarded.
(as written beside the photo, somewhat translated)

'Che' smoking a Cigar, Santiago de Cuba, 1964

     This image has had numerous opinions; if it is a montage of several negatives, if it was taken in a television studio, or maybe a superimposed profile of 'Fidel', etc.
     Considering the more improbable, that 'Che' posed in a studio for this picture!! Just knowing Che and his personality the answer is obvious. It was taken during the commemorative ceremony of July 26 in Santiago de Cuba, 1964, during the closing speech.
     This photo was not taken in an instant, it had taken several minutes before he was able to capture what he had previously seen. There are multiple criteria on the outcome. We believe the most valuable feedback comes from Alberto Diaz Gutierrez's (Korda) who was a companion, colleague, brother and friend to Osvaldo. Korda said: "I have taken the most famous photo of Che (Plaza de La Revolucion), but I think this is the most beautiful image of him.
(as written beside the photo, somewhat translated)

Sport Figures

     For several years, a group of scholars and collectors of photographs in the United States gathered up works of Osvaldo Salas taken in the late 40s and 50s in Major League baseball in the U.S.
     During those years several publications in Cuba and other Latin American countries contracted Osvaldo to work for them. He tended to photograph the new additions to the major leagues, that is, those of Latino ballplayers and other Minorities who until then were held back by the racial barrier. That barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers and it was captured by the lens of Osvaldo.
     Over the years, it has been uncovered that Osvaldo unwittingly had in his work the largest collection of this era of change, which drew attention to the directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, which managed to collect over 800 of those images.
(as written beside the photo, somewhat translated)

           Below are pictures from the gallery on the lower level reserved for amateur photographers. They are of a side of Cuba that one doesn't usually see, especially the all-inclusive tourists. It's of the world of the Transgender or Cross-dresser. The gay scene in Cuba is thriving now that it's somewhat tolerated.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Conde de Villanueva LCDH (Havana) A Quick Visit

                 For any true Cigar Aficionado and frequent traveler to Havana, no visit to the city is complete without a stop at the Conde de Villanueva LCDH in Old Havana. Even if, as in my particular case, it's only for a quick coffee and purchase of a few custom rolls. Speaking of Custom Rolled Cigars, those of you who visit this store know how famous the cigars here are and the person who made them famous, Reynaldo. However, I never hear mention the name of the roller who more than likely rolled the cigar coming out of this shop, Jorge (the one in the pictures below). Now, I'm not saying Reynaldo doesn't roll cigars anymore but when was the last time you saw him roll. On occasion, lately, I've seen Reynaldo sitting at the rollers table but it's more likely the cigars coming out of Conde are rolled with Jorge's hands. This post isn't to speak ill of Reynaldo, he's a friend of mine and a wonderful person who's had a lot to do with the success of this shop, it's to sing the praises of an unknown artist. It's about time that Jorge gets some recognition for all his hard work. As I said, the roller pictured below is Jorge.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Soroa Waterfall (Pinar del Rio)

                    We travel approximately 80 kilometers from Havana, in the western area of Cuba near the Sierra del Rosario mountains. Here in the Pinar del Rio Province lies the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve. The 21 meter waterfall sits at about 250 meters above sea level and is part of this Reserve. The rivers in this area contain mineral and medicinal properties and many who visit here take a dip in the cool ponds.
                  El Salto de Soroa is the full name of the waterfall coming from the two brothers, Lorenzo & Antonio Soroa. They were Spaniards who came to Cuba in 1856 seeking to make it rich in the coffee business as producers. El Salto would mean jump, as in the water jumping off the cliff. They call the area around the falls "the Rainbow of Cuba" because of the Rainbow that's often seen there. There's also the town of Soroa close by.
                   It was easy to get there, with the exit right off the main highway that goes to Pinar del Rio from Havana, and easy to find the site once we got off the highway just a few kilometers away. You couldn't miss the parking lot with it's snack bar out front where we had ham and cheese sandwiches with Bucanero beer after our visit. There was a full service restaurant next to the parking lot but not the kind of place where I would normally eat. To get to the falls you take a well marked path directly from the parking lot. It will cost you a couple of CUC to enter. The walkway is pretty safe but a little bit of attention should be given. It winds around a hill and goes up and down and would need a little more care if there's any kind of moisture around. Once there things are a little more lively as there's sure to be others at the bottom of the falls as well, some of them even taking a dip in the cool waters. There were a couple of entrepreneurs that were set up with several fruits to make fresh cocktails like Pina Colada in a pineapple or a fresh coconut with a touch of rum dribbled (or poured) into it. They had legal papers and were quite happy with the new laws that enable them to set themselves up at this location and sell their product without worrying about being arrested. Of course now they pay taxes.
                    It made for a nice little side trip on the way to our main destination which was Vinales, a little further west in Pinar del Rio. I would like to come back when I have more time and visit an abandoned coffee plantation or the Soroa Orchid Garden (within walking distance of the falls parking lot) which contains more than 700 types of orchids both native and exotic varieties. Make a point of stopping at a Guarapera Stand on the road to the highway. Guarapera is Sugarcane put though a special juicer that extracts a natural sugary juice. Worth the few cents to give it a try.

Snack Bar at entrance to parking lot

Full Service Restaurant

Bridge to the Path

Guarapera Stand (Sugarcane Juice)