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Posted January 22, 2006 by publisher in Cuban History

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by Burt Glinn | The Globalist

Havana: The Revolutionary Moment

For some, Cuban President Fidel Castro is an evil dictator — a man accused of killing a number of political dissidents and opponents during his decades-long rule. For others, he is a champion of poor and developing countries and is a very vocal and articulate critic of U.S. policies on many fronts.

But photographer Burt Glinn glances back to the year 1959 and captures the young Fidel Castro with a sense of dignity, respect and love — attitudes that time has erased from many people’s minds. The photographer captures Castro lifting a young girl clad in a white dress into the air — and again as he shares a drink with a compadre in a dimly lit restaurant.

At the time of the revolution, he is portrayed as a strong and genuine leader — one who will stop to listen to the advice of a middle-aged woman.

Although Mr. Glinn’s collection, “Havana: The Revolutionary Moment,” highlights these quiet and more intimate moments, it also conveys the sense of immediacy and intensity of the 1959 Cuban revolution.

A man of the people

In 1959, Castro was viewed as a man of the people ” and in these photographs they clearly loved him. Cubans poured into crowded streets, they climbed trees for a faraway glimpse of him ” and they were willing to crush one another in a crowd in order for a chance to shake his hand.

But beneath this tangible love, there is an equally tangible sense of fear. The collection begins with three Castro sympathizers aiming their rifles out of a narrow window frame, down at the specks of people below.

Havana became a city of mass confusion and panic the day that Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista fled the country. Castro sympathizers took to the streets, wielding small firearms. Mr. Glinn captures this tension in a photograph near the front of the book.

A man with slicked back dark hair and a cigarette hanging from his mouth points a pistol down the street. The man standing to the right of him holds a hand to his ear. Another man, his face scrunched and unreadable, leans back into the safety of a doorway. It is obvious in this picture that a shot had been fired.

The revolutionary moment

Compared to the men surrounding him, the man firing the pistol stands defiantly. His raised arm is tense ” and his anger radiates from the matted page. This anger and panic is starkly contrasted later by the euphoria that can be seen in the images of the 26 of July Movement led by the late Che Guevara and Castro, as they marched through Havana.

This is a portrait of a moment in history that spoke of hope for the Cuban people ” a time before President Castro’s reputation was marred in the international community by accusations of serious human rights violations.

Whether Castro is a good president and leader of his people today is deemed irrelevant by this book. The photographer avoids this controversial issue ” and instead offers a portrait of a time when his people undoubtedly loved him.

In this collection, they want his leadership ” and they are willing to fight and die for his love.

Presented by Christina Erb.

About Burt Glinn

Burt Glinn, former president of the American Society of Media Photographers, made his mark in the photography world with a series of photographic essays on the South Seas, Japan, Russia, Mexico and California. These stunning series were published by Holiday magazine. He has also covered the Sinai War, the U.S. Marine invasion of Lebanon and the integration of the public school system in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Mr. Glinn also served as president and chairman of the prestigious Magnum Board. His first two books are entitled, “Portrait of All the Russians” and “A Portrait of Japan.” He is a recipient of the Matthew Brady Award and the Best Book of the Photographic Reporting from Abroad Award from the Overseas Press Club.


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