January 9, 1925 – April 15, 2006
“Yes, I am romantic. I have to be romantic to be a photographer. I have to see life in a different way.”
Born in Ciego de Avila, Cuba in 1925, Raúl Corrales moved to Havana as a young boy where he began to develop his passion for photography. Emerging from roots in the harsher landscape of Cuba, Corrales trained himself, later taking on the role of photojournalist as a street photographer with an interest in searching for images that divulged the humanity of his subjects, offering a new perspective used to document the political transition from one regime to another. Along with other revolutionary photographers of his time, Corrales took on a central role in the creation of political journals and magazines such as Revolución, INRA, as well as Cuba and Cuba Internacional, publications similar to that of the U.S.’s Life. From 1959 to 1961, Corrales took on the role of official photographer to Fidel Castro, emerging as one of the artists in the forefront of Cuban photography of the time, aiding in the creation of a definitive body of work that became the face of the Revolution to the outside world, recording the look, feel, and ideals of the Revolution through its in-depth focus on its leaders. His photographs were among those of a group branded as models of Cuban photography, establishing a base from which all other images produced in Cuba have since been measured. Corrales contributed some of the most personal images of the Revolution and its leaders, photographing from the view point of a participant with an awareness that accommodates the intimate, heroic, tragic, and ironic sides of his subjects, later saying about his work, “I look and I see.”
In 1959 and 1996, Raúl Corrales was awarded the Premilo Nacional des Artes Plasicas, one of the most prestigious Cuban awards for artists. His work has been featured in several solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, and remains in the permanent collections of many museums worldwide, including those in the United States, Cuba, Italy, and Mexico. Coined as one of the most monumental photographers of the Cuban Revolution and of his time, Corrales passed away in April 2006.
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**The editioning of prints and photography was not widely practiced or expected of photographers before the 1960's, especially in Cuba. Therefore many vintage Cuban photographs have uncertain/unknown edition numbers (open editions). However due to the thin fragile negative paper and humid climates in Cuban, negatives were rarely capable of preservation after around 50 prints. The negative paper themselves often became far too fragile to use further. In addition, without a photography studio or dark room, and in the turmoil of the Cuban Revolution photographers such as Korda, printed their work in bathtubs and sinks. The printing paper available to Cubans was limited until the 1990s. Therefore differences in paper, pigment and photographs are all relative to and indicative of the given political & social status of the Cuban government at the time the photograph was printed.
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In the 1950s Corrales joined the Partido Socialista Popular and worked as a photographer for the Party's newspaper. He specialized in going to the remote parts of Cuba to photograph the everyday lives of poor peasants and workers. During a police raid in the late 1950s, almost all of Corrales photographic work was destroyed.
After the Revolution of 1959 against the Batista Government, Raúl Corrales joined the Communist Party of Cuba. He was one of Fidel Castro's official photographers for many years. Corrales worked for almost three decades in the Office of Historical Affairs, helping to preserve and organize the Castro dictatorships documentary and photographic legacy.
He had many exhibitions of his work, such as 35 con la 35 at the Galería Habana in 1980. In 1985 his work was seen in Homenaje a Raúl Corrales at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana. In 1993 Visa pour l'Image. 5 Festival International du Photoreportage was seen at Perpignan, France. His photos were exhibited in 1998 in Raúl Corrales. Exposición Retrospectiva at the Fototeca de Cuba, Havana. In 2002 Raúl Corrales was shown at the Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles, California and the C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1966 Primera Muestra de la Cultura Cubana was seen at Pabellón Cuba, Havana. In 1978 some of Corrales images were selected and presented in Hecho en Latinoamérica I, Primera Muestra de la Fotografía Latinoamericana Contemporánea at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico. He was part of the exhibition Cuba Then and Now at the Gallery at 678, New York City, in 1998 and in 2002 Cuba 1960-2000. Sogno e realtá at the Italian Foundation for Photography, Turín, Italy.
Corrales won the Premio Salón de Artes Plásticas, UNEAC in 1979. He was awarded the Premio de Fotografía Cubana 1982, Salón 23 y M, Hotel Habana Libre. In 1996 he was recognized with the National Prize Of Visual Arts, granted by the Ministerio de Cultura of Cuba.
Raúl Corrales work can be found in collections such as at the Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, Universidad de Parma, Italy; the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and the Ryanson College Gallery of Arts, Ottawa, Canada. In Cuba his work can be found in important collections: Casa de las Américas, Havana and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana.
The Ones That Didn't Get Away
A Photographer Who Portrayed Cuba's Revolution With Complex Wit
SARAH BOXER | January 15, 2003
COJÍMAR, Cuba— The fishermen in this little village near Havana ''are a lot of liars,'' said Raúl Corrales, who has lived here for more than half a century. ''Each one has a catch, the biggest, but he loses it.''
Mr. Corrales, a tanned little man who will be 78 on Jan. 29, claims a few big catches of his own. He caught Ernest Hemingway on a fishing boat, fat and happy. He snapped Che Guevara as he sipped espresso. He captured Fidel Castro hiking through the Sierra Maestra. And he has the pictures to prove it.
Born Raúl Corral Fornos, Mr. Corrales is one of the last great living photographers of the Cuban revolution. His best known work is a grand full-frontal photograph of revolutionaries trotting toward the camera on horseback, dust at their feet, mountains behind, straw hats on their heads, smiles on their faces, Cuban flags hoisted high. The photograph, ''Caballería,'' or ''Cavalry'' (1960), is one of the icons of the revolution.
Mr. Corrales may not be as famous outside Cuba as Korda (Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez), who took the ubiquitous, stern portrait of Guevara seen on Cuban currency and billboards, but he has just as secure a throne in the pantheon of Cuban photography. Korda himself (1928-2001) called Mr. Corrales ''the teacher.'' While Korda's hard-edged graphic photographs work well on posters, Mr. Corrales's complex pictures have more pith and wit. Or as Mr. Corrales once jokingly put it, ''I'm the better photographer, but Korda is more famous.''
Sitting in the living room of his tile-floored, 50's-modern house, Mr. Corrales wears a white fishing cap, a black polo shirt, gray slacks and brown shoes. A thin slice near the tip of his nose seems to be missing, which gives him a hint of danger. His ''grand great-son,'' a toddler, pops in and out of the room, casting a toy on a string through the doorway over and over, as if practicing his fly fishing technique. The smell of garlic and seafood comes from the kitchen, where Mr. Corrales's wife, Norma, is preparing lobster. The room is open to the outside garden, which gives onto a small shed of a darkroom. You can hear birds chirp and roosters crow.
''I suppose you want to know something more about me,'' Mr. Corrales said, puffing away at an El Credito cigar that he had stuffed down his carved pipe. (He explained that this way none of the cigar would be wasted.) He put his hands on his knees and began to speak in excellent English.
Mr. Corrales got his first taste of photography in the late 1930's when he worked at El Carmelo, a fashionable cafe in Havana. There one of his jobs was selling foreign newspapers and magazines, including Life and Look. He spent his free time studying Farm Security Administration photographs of the American Depression by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein. With his tips from El Carmelo, Mr. Corrales bought a plastic camera for 3 pesos. Soon he was taking professional photographs for Última Hora and Hoy, two Cuban lifestyle magazines.
Mr. Corrales said he first came to Cojímar when it was a small fishing village. ''As soon as I came here I fell in love with Cojímar and with Norma.'' There were only two long streets, and everybody knew everybody else. ''You had to be careful when you said something bad.''
It was nothing like Havana. ''In Havana in those years, early in the 50's, there were a lot of American tourists,'' Mr. Corrales said. ''It was easy to come from Florida.'' You didn't need a passport or visa.
Ernest Hemingway was the great American celebrity in Havana. ''Everyone wants to talk, have a picture with him, start a conversation,'' Mr. Corrales said. ''For Papa, it was all right,'' he said, pausing for a moment to consider whether that was really so, ''but there were too many Americans.''
One day Hemingway visited Cojímar, where the skipper of his boat, Gregorio Fuentes, lived. Suddenly Hemingway was anonymous. When he walked down the street in Cojímar, ''no one cares about him, no one wants to take his photograph or autograph,'' Mr. Corrales said. So he stayed. He was very popular, not as a writer, just as an American. ''He loved that,'' Mr. Corrales said.
Hemingway once invited Mr. Corrales to go fishing and take some pictures. ''We didn't catch anything,'' Mr. Corrales said. But pictures were made. Hemingway is shown fat and boisterous with what looks like a fanny pack, or more likely a wineskin, around his waist. Another picture captures Hemingway's skipper, Fuentes, who often claimed that he was the old man of ''The Old Man and the Sea.''
But Mr. Corrales says that another man, Anselmo Hernández, the oldest fisherman in town and Hemingway's friend, is the real old man of the novel. In one of Mr. Corrales's pictures, Mr. Hernández is shown as Hemingway's body opposite, skinny and grizzled, walking down a dock holding a fishing pole in one hand and a tiny headless fish by the tail in the other. Mr. Corrales suggested comparing the photo of the old man with Hemingway's description in the novel. ''It is the same,'' he noted.
''Then came the revolution,'' he said, almost without missing a beat. In 1959, Mr. Corrales, who was already a press photographer for some Cuban magazines, joined Revolución, the new government newspaper. He accompanied Castro on his first trip to Washington, New York and Harvard University. At Harvard Mr. Corrales took a famous picture of Mr. Castro making a speech in the football stadium from a podium bearing the university's seal with the word Veritas, Latin for truth. ''You know these things happened,'' Mr. Corrales said with a twinkle.
During Mr. Castro's visit to Washington, where he made an appearance on ''Meet the Press,'' Richard M. Nixon, then vice president, invited him for a chat. ''It was informal, without protocol,'' Mr. Corrales said. ''The time for the interview was 15 minutes. They talked for 45.'' When Mr. Castro left, the problems with Cuba and the United States began, first the Bay of Pigs invasion, then the Cuban missile crisis. ''I was very afraid for everybody,'' Mr. Corrales said. ''Well, time rolled on and nothing happened.''
The old snapper's story was drawing to a close. ''Many, many Americans think we are liars. But we are a happy country, a happy people. We have families, we work, we study. We have everything many countries do not have,'' he said. ''I'm not political. I'm just a photographer who has lived all these years. I know all the world,'' he concluded. ''And now I invite you to see some of my pictures. Of course, I have to make a living. If you want a copy, it will be a pleasure.''
Mr. Corrales pulled out two envelopes. One had large photographs that cost about $1,000 each. The other had larger, limited edition prints for about $2,200 each. There were views of a plump Hemingway, shots of Che Guevara smoking and smiling (the face that launched a thousand postcards), many winning group portraits of young revolutionaries in straw hats and a famous shot of Castro hiking through the Sierra Maestra.
One odd photo showed a wedding couple sitting in a bathroom flanked by toilets. Another was of a fisherman with a huge white net billowing over him, looking as if he were in a Martha Graham dance. Mr. Corrales displayed a picture of a sea of marching hats and guns, a study of the tools of the machetero (cane cutter) and a moody portrait called ''El Sueño'' (''The Dream''), showing a soldier in Caracas dozing in a hammock under a painting of a reclining nude woman. Mr. Corrales, unlike many other revolutionary photographers, has an eye for visual puns, abstract patterns and surreal or sardonic moments.
At one point in his career, Mr. Corrales gave his pictures commercial American titles. A photograph of two children asleep in a hammock is called ''Beautyrest.'' A shot taken in Nicaragua showing three dark legs with rolled cuffs standing amid a mess of bananas on the ground is called ''Banana Split.'' Mr. Corrales said: ''I have no favorite photographs and no favorite sons. I like them all. I love them all.''
One of Mr. Corrales's sons took charge of selling the photographs while Mr. Corrales went back to his chair to finish his cigar, which was quickly vanishing into the bowl of his pipe. On one side of him was an old Singer sewing machine. On the other side a cast iron grate on the wall held some keepsakes: children's boots and women's shoes, his mother's old iron with its gas tank, a dried marlin fin, a few gas lamps, a frame for a coffee filter and a blue license plate from Nicaragua.
Why the license plate? It was number 246296 and had the year 1979 on it, the year the Somozas fled the country and the Sandinistas came to power. Mr. Corrales said he snatched it from the car belonging to Somoza's wife.
I asked Mr. Corrales why he had joined the revolution. ''I didn't,'' he said. ''I made the revolution.''
Raúl Corrales: Obituaries
May 8, 2006
Raúl Corrales, who died on April 15 aged 81, was perhaps the most gifted of the small group of photographers who chronicled the Cuban Revolution; for several years he was Fidel Castro's official photographer, and present with his camera at such momentous events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Missile Crisis.
When Castro overthrew the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 the challenge facing Corrales and his colleagues was to develop a language appropriate to epic times, and one that broke with the conservative approach hitherto seen in the press. The result was a heroic style, at times too consciously Marxist in tone, but executed with a distinctively Cuban panache that often saved the resultant images from being solely propaganda.
Thus Corrales's best-known picture, Caballeria (Cavalry, 1960), was political in nature, showing as it does a band of horsemen symbolically riding on to a plantation owned by an American fruit company. Like several other of the most resonant photographs of the 20th century, such as Yevgeny Khaldei's snap of Soviet soldiers planting their flag on the Reichstag, Corrales's subjects were re-creating for the camera an event that had actually taken place earlier, since in this case the uprising had happened months before.
That the image became an enduring one of the Revolution was not simply due to its subtext but also to Corrales's having captured the ragged band's celebratory air, the sheer joy of these armed rebels in straw hats.
Such contradictory elements were a constant presence in his work, which aimed to unite, as the eye does, diverse objects into a new form. Thus, other of his pictures, which were always black and white, counterpointed wealth with poverty, often to emphasise the dignity as well as the grind of labour. The ironically titled Wash and Wear shows a working man's clothes reduced to rags. Such hardship had once been Corrales's lot; his many menial employments when young had included spells as a shoeshine boy and as a cutlery cleaner in a restaurant, a task which required him to shine knives with banana fronds.
Corrales took several of the first photographs of Che Guevara, although it was his friend and disciple Alberto Korda who was to take the most celebrated of all. Corrales also snapped several notable pictures of Ernest Hemingway and Anselmo Hernandez, reputedly the model for The Old Man and the Sea.
Soon after Castro's accession to power, Corrales began to accompany him on a daily basis. In 1961 he rode on a tank into the firefight at the Bay of Pigs, where American-backed opponents of Castro had attempted to land, but dropped all his films into the sea when the tank took evasive action.
The year before he had taken a shot of Castro addressing a million-strong crowd in central Havana. He liked to say that other photographers would not have got the picture, because they would not have had the temerity to tell two ministers to move their chairs out of the line of his lens. Corrales was repaid for his boldness by the image being used for decades on the back of the 10-peso note.
He was born Raúl Corral Fornos on January 29 1925 at Quince y Medio, near Ciego de Avila in central Cuba. His parents had emigrated from Galicia, north-west Spain, and subsisted as sugarcane cutters. The life of the rural poor was a prime influence on Corrales's vision as a photographer.
After the family moved to Havana, and he had left elementary school, Raúl worked as a bellboy at an upmarket café in the city, opening car doors for customers as they arrived and departed. For each month of 13-hour days that he worked, he was paid two pesos.
He also sold foreign magazines and newspapers to the clientele, and it was by leafing through the pages of publications such as Life that he first trained his eye. Corrales was especially drawn to images of the Depression in the American Midwest, and to the work of Margaret Bourke-White.
In his mid-teens he bought his first camera, but, lacking the money to pay for the printing, studied the developed frames of his shots through a magnifying glass. He subsequently found work as an all-night fruit seller, taking the opportunity to study English between sales.
His entree to photography was as a cleaner at the Cuba Sono film agency, which was run by the island's Socialist Party. There he learned how to develop film and to work different cameras. One day the staff of a tailor's shop wanted to pose for a group portrait, but there was no one on hand at the agency to take their picture. Corrales offered to do the job, and so relieved was his boss not to have lost a customer that when Corrales returned from the assignment he was added to the staff.
In 1953, during a crackdown on Communism in Cuba inspired by Senator McCarthy's strictures, Cuba Sono was closed by the government. Corrales went to work for newspapers under the name Raúl Varela, and in 1957 became the art director of Siboney magazine. Later he became the head of photography for a publicity agency.
Corrales was succeeded in 1961 by Korda as Castro's personal photographer. Thereafter, from the mid-1960s until his retirement in 1991, he was chief of the pictures section of Cuba's state archive. He was awarded the National Visual Arts Prize in 1996.
Raúl Corrales is survived by his wife, Norma, and by two sons and a daughter.