Raul Corrales : The Subtlety of Cuba

On an art hunt in the late 90s (during Cuba’s Special Period), I met the great Raul Corrales. He was wearing a straw hat, trunks, and flip flops and seemed as grumpy about the heat as he did visitors. In time, he warmed up to me and allowed the, in his words, “the only blonde on the island” to sift though his treasures. I spent a long, hot afternoon with the Great, and remember our conversations and his photographic treasures well.

Raul Corrales was Castro's official photographer from 1959 to 1961. While Korda tended to glorify the revolution and its leaders, Corrales's work was more subtle, reflecting the hardship of a small nation trying to find a new way. One example was a picture showing two pairs of legs outside a café, one wearing ragged trousers and barefoot, the other sporting crisp blue jeans, a leather machete sheath and fine laced boots - a telling reminder of inequality before the revolution.

Screen+Shot+2019-05-23+at+11.29.43+AM.png

Caballería (or Cavalry), shows a ragged band of straw-hatted revolutionaries riding on to a plantation of the US-owned United Fruit Company plantation in 1959. The shot was actually taken months after the revolution, and showed Castro supporters re-enacting an 1895 battle in the Cuban war of independence. But Corrales and Castro were well aware of its propaganda significance.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 11.30.19 AM.png

In terms of pure art, Corrales's photograph El Sueño (The Dream, 1959) is generally considered a classic. It shows an exhausted guerrilla asleep on a military cot beneath a framed portrait of a voluptuous woman wearing only a pearl necklace. With one arm resting behind his head, the man echoes the woman's pose, while his rifle, and his cap resting on his groin, add a subtle eroticism suggested by the photograph's title.

1508355663-m6ojukwaxder4hsuhrn9.jpg

Since Corrales was considered something of a national treasure in Cuba, biographies usually locate his birthplace in the province of Ciego de Avila, though some reports suggest he was born in Galicia, Spain, and brought to Cuba as an infant, when his father sought work on the sugar plantations. He himself began as an assistant in a photographic laboratory in 1944, and started taking pictures in the 1950s for the communist newspaper Noticias de Hoy and such magazines as Bohemia and Carteles.

Among his early subjects was Ernest Hemingway, who lived on-and-off between Key West, Florida, and the village of Cojímar, outside Havana, where he got the inspiration to write The Old Man and the Sea. The "old man" of the story was Anselmo Hernández, a fisherman and neighbour of Corrales, and the three men, along with Hemingway's yacht captain Gregorio Fuentes, became regular drinkers at the El Curro bar, on the Cojímar seafront.

While Korda made no shame in photographing to meet beautiful women, Corrales's pictures of poor peasants before the revolution reflected the popular ideals held by the guerrilla leaders. Commenting on Corrales's portraits of desperate sugar-cane cutters and banana farmers, Korda reportedly once told him: "When there's no longer misery in Cuba, Raúl, you're going to starve to death." To be fair, when asked years later to analyse his generation of Cuban photographers, he observed: "And then there's Raúl Corrales, who's the greatest of us all."

Rebekah Jacob on Curating Cuban Revolutionary Photography

Rebekah Jacob continues to curate rare vintage Cuban Revolutionary photographs via physical and digital platforms. Thankfully, many collectors, dealers, and institutions join our mission and lend key works to these projects — expanding creativity, developing scholarship, and increasing market rate.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most spectacular political events of the twentieth century. A dramatic chapter in the Cold War, the improbable overthrow of the dictator Fulgenico Batista by a ragtag band of young Communist guerillas and intellectuals occurred just ninety miles from the United States. Tracing the movement from the triumphal entry of the rebels into Havana on January 1, 1959, to the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, these images show the tremendous influence of photography in recording and encouraging the revolutionary movement in Cuba. Among the most outstanding works in our collection of rare vintage prints are Alberto Korda's famous portrait of Che Guevara titled "Heroic Guerrilla" and never-before-seen images of Che's death in Bolivia in 1967. Our inventory features work from over thirty photographers, including important images of pre-Revolutionary Cuba in the 1950s by Constantino Arias as well as classic images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raúl Corrales, and Burt Glinn, among others. Cuba in Revolutionexplores everyday life in Cuba before and after the Revolution and considers the ways in which both Cuban and foreign photojournalists helped construct the image of the revolution abroad.


By Rebekah Jacob

"There is no doubt the these photographic projects make me a more well-rounded curator and dealer. As a gallery owner, I must delicately balance creativity, capitalism, and journalism in order to sustain my fine art enterprise. This I have learned over time and having made many mistakes. The Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been a key case study in my career in three ways:
 
Creatively, through formal education, apprenticeships with top dealers, and global travel to curate inventory, I have mastered my eye and advanced my level of connoisseurship for top-quality, rare artwork — particularly of this genre. 
 
Advanced skill-sets are necessary and diversely applicable when curating exquisite rare photographs, such as those by Cuban Greats (Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, Raul Corrales, i.e.). Through extensive travel the US, Europe and particularly Cuba, I have sifted through countless private collections, museum collections, and have worked with the most rare material to come from that period.  I still find the material alluring and magical.
 
Fiscally, the Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been very large investments of time, money, and travel. Journalistically, I continue to be fascinated by motion makers; and over time, I developed a calling towards Southern documentary photography, Civil Rights Photography, and particularly Cuban Revolutionary photography –– timeless images that document those socially changing the world.

I have seen many of RJG’s projects –– both exhibitions and publications –– take on their own organic forms, becoming a voice for thousands who sacrificed to change the world. RJG continues to take on historical projects that explore monumental themes about social change.
 
I would argue that I have come to know the Cuban Revolutionary collections, photograph by photograph, more intimately than any other curator or dealer in the Art World today. As I leaf through boxes of inventory on top of my flat files, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such rare and historical material.
 
I celebrate the success of  many Cuban Revolutionary projects.  And new piles on my desk await –– diverse collations of materials in preparation for the next Rebekah Jacob Gallery photography project. As always I'm excited to keep moving forward.”

843-754-0003 (RJG personal cell: fee-based speaking engagements available)

Screen+Shot+2019-02-04+at+1.16.17+PM.jpg