A photojournalist of the Cuban Revolution comes to town.
Thursday, January 24, 2002
Photo: A Star Is Born: In this and other photos of Che Guevara, Raul Corrales captured the idealism and gravity of the Cuban Revolution. Corrales speaks at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel on Friday.
Almost everyone knows the work of Raul Corrales, though they may not know it. Alberto Korda''s iconic image of Che Guevara-the one from which Guevara''s soulful, determined eyes gaze at some faraway point-is better known, but Corrales'' images of the Cuban Revolution have a similarly familiar air, and they''re more complex, capturing the difficulty of the revolutionaries'' task as well as the glory of their struggle.
Corrales, a renowned Cuban photographer, was charged with documenting the events before, during and after the Revolution. A close examination of Corrales'' oeuvre, however, reveals humanistic more than political concerns. His work is a fascinating time capsule of an era, the first half of the 20th century, during which common people cast off the yoke of oppression through incredible personal sacrifice. His images document the hardships faced by those who answered the Revolution''s call with an uncompromising eye, poignancy and anger disguised as sarcasm.
Corrales was born in 1925 in Galicia, Spain. His family immigrated to Cuba when he was a child so that his father could find work in the sugar cane fields. It was the Depression in Cuba as elsewhere; hours were long and pay was low. The Corrales children were forced to work the streets for whatever they could find or for whatever they could earn to help the family circumstances. His mother fed cane workers for extra money.
After minimal schooling, the young Corrales began working a series of labor and service jobs. During one period, while a bell boy at a Havana hotel, his responsibilities included stocking a magazine rack. There he discovered the big picture magazines such as Life, Look and Pic, with their many pages of high-level photojournalism. He pored over these pictures, studying the various ways the photographers had achieved visual impact.
Corrales got hold of a small plastic camera and set off, inspired by the documentary photography of the late ''30s and his own experiences in poverty. He befriended leaders of the Popular Socialist Party while working as a photographer for newspapers, and he accompanied them to sugar mills, factories and other work places as they fomented interest in their cause. He began publishing photographs in influential magazines such as Revolucion and documenting the unfolding political upheaval of the late ''50s.
In his photographs of peasant workers and machine-gun-toting revolutionaries, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Corrales consistently reveals the resignation in their faces, as if they say, "This is an unpleasant and frightful task, but I have to do it for my people."
He uses juxtapositions to illustrate both disparity in classes and the humanity in the desperate and downtrodden. In one picture, the legs of two men standing at a cafe bar can be seen, but the one with the nice sheathed machete and new blue jeans wears fine lace boots, while the other, in tattered trousers, is barefoot.
In another telling series of images, Corrales shows various revolutionaries, some in uniforms, most in ragged civvies, holding musical instruments while burp guns and automatic rifles are slung over their shoulders. Their faces and body language communicate deep desires to bring levity and joy to lives immersed in a deadly enterprise.
Friday evening Corrales presents a slide presentation that will bring to life both political and aesthetic issues rising from a long life of front-line involvement in what are, to many in the United States, anti-American activities. Doubtless to Corrales, the truth, just as the substance of his pictures, is considerably more complicated.