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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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In Photos, Eudora Welty Captured Life in 1930s Mississippi

By Matthew Sedacca for the New York Times

Photographs by Eudora Welty

Before her career as a distinguished fiction writer, Eudora Welty applied her short-form prowess to photographing life in Depression-era Mississippi. 

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Bursting from the fertile ground of Crystal Springs, Miss., an absurdly odd harvest blots out the horizon: a cottage-size tomato, drooping decorative leaf and all, perched atop a wooden shanty. Lured by the irresistible gravitational pull of this shrine to “The Tomatropolis,” a smiling woman poses for a photographer and offers scale, her fingers pointing childlike at the kitsch behind her.

Sure, the folks back home had to see this surreal homage to the city’s economic foundation. But even more unexpected is the photographer: Eudora Welty, the elder stateswoman of American letters.

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Before becoming famous for her short stories of comedic interfamilial strife and everyday adversities subtly imbued with issues of race and class, Ms. Welty used the camera as her vehicle to preserve life, ever-fleeting with all its joys, complexities and hardships, in the 1930s. Many of these photos were featured in “Photographs,” originally published in 1989, and recently reissued by the University Press of Mississippi.

A native of Jackson, Miss., Ms. Welty briefly left the South to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, later, business school at Columbia University. She returned in 1931 to work at Jackson’s local radio station and contribute society columns to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

But it was in her stint as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration, which itself was famed for dispatching some of the country’s best photographers and writers to chronicle New Deal America, that she flourished as a photographer. Ms. Welty captured her fellow Mississippians in their daily routines, with each frame evoking the complications of everyday life, like children hauling unwieldy blocks of ice to dinner or a fatigued-looking nurse outside a clinic.

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“Poverty in Mississippi, white and black, really didn’t have too much to do with the Depression,” Ms. Welty said in an interview with Hunter Cole and Seetha Srinivasan at the beginning of the book. “It was ongoing. Mississippi was long since poor, long devastated. I took the pictures of our poverty because that was reality.”

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Prints from this period were featured in her two-week solo show at the photographic galleries of Lugene Opticians in New York in 1936, but the literary world proved more receptive to her work, with Manuscript magazine publishing her first piece of fiction that same year. Her photos were finally published for the first time in her 1971 opus “One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression.”

Given her affiliation with the W.P.A., viewers might be tempted to draw comparisons between her images and those of renowned photographers of the time, like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who worked for the Farm Security Administration. The differences between their bodies of work are clear, something she herself confirmed: Instead of the formalism or portrait work of Mr. Evans and Ms. Lange, Ms. Welty’s images show life as it unfolded before her, distilling the solemn quiet of a blind weaver at work or the warm communal embrace of women at a carnival.

“I was taking photographs of human beings because they were real life and they were there in front of me and that was the reality,” Ms. Welty said. “I was the recorder of it. I wasn’t trying to exhort the public.”

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Ms. Welty’s photography doesn’t extend past the mid-1950s, a fact she attributed to a combination of losing her camera in Paris and devoting the bulk of her creative energy to writing. Still, the decades spent documenting the world around her played a part in shaping her point of view in writing that people would eventually revere.

“Some perception of the world and some habit of observation shaded into the other,” Ms. Welty said about her dual passions, “just because in both cases, writing and photography, you were trying to portray what you saw, and truthfully. Portray life, living people, as you saw them. And a camera could catch that fleeting moment, which is what a short story, in all its depth, tries to do.”



Clarence J. Laughlin - A South of Surrealism

Clarence Laughlin was born into a middle-class family in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His rocky childhood, southern heritage, and interest in literature influenced his work greatly. After losing everything in a failed rice-growing venture in 1910, his family was forced to relocate to New Orleans where Laughlin's father found work in a factory. Laughlin was an introverted child with few friends and a close relationship with his father, who cultivated and encouraged his lifelong love of literature and whose death in 1918 devastated his son.

Although he dropped out of high school in 1920 after having barely completed his freshman year, Laughlin was an educated and highly literate man. His large vocabulary and love of language are evident in the elaborate captions he later wrote to accompany his photographs. He initially aspired to be a writer and wrote many poems and stories in the style of French symbolism, most of which remained unpublished.

Laughlin discovered photography when he was 25 and taught himself how to use a simple 2½ by 2¼ view camera. He began working as a freelance architectural photographer and was subsequently employed by agencies as varied as Vogue Magazine and the US government. Disliking the constraints of government work, Laughlin eventually left Vogue after a conflict with then-editor Edward Steichen. Thereafter, he worked almost exclusively on personal projects utilizing a wide range of photographic styles and techniques, from simple geometric abstractions of architectural features to elaborately staged allegories utilizing models, costumes, and props.

Through this period one of his favorite models was Dody Weston Thompson who went on to become a notable photographer in her own right.

He died on January 2, 1985 in New Orleans, leaving behind a massive collection of books and images. Thanks to the 17,000 negatives that he preserved, his work continues to be shown around the United States and Europe. Laughlin's library, comprising over 30,000 volumes, was purchased by Louisiana State University in 1986. The collection's focus in on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and the macabre. Other subjects represented include 20th-century art and design, European and American architecture, photography, Victoriana, humor, sex and sexuality, psychology, spiritualism, and the occult.[1]

Many historians credit Laughlin as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His images are often nostalgic, reflecting the influence of Eugène Atget and other photographers who tried to capture vanishing urban landscapes. Laughlin's best-known book, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, was first published in 1948.

A pair of surrealistic photographs of parts on a 1939 Ford, in which the photographer's reflection as he took the pictures could be seen, were showcased in 2013 on an episode of Antiques Roadshow set in Baton Rouge, LA, and attributed to Clarence John Laughlin.[2] The man who brought the photographs to the Roadshow knew Laughlin's son, and saw the photos hanging at the son's place of business. In order to acquire them, the man traded automobile repairs and various parts, first for one, then for the other. Their retail value, as a pair, was appraised at $7,000 to $9,000, although the owner indicated that he thought they were priceless.


Rebekah on Curating Southern Photography

There is no formula for becoming an art dealer for the the discipline, creativity and business style that one pursues.  It has been a long and, at times, treacherous journey, but one filled with thrill, adventure, and the unexpected.  To master my craft has been my obsession, my life’s work.

Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments driven by imagination, social justice and politics, and mostly, my love of the South.  The Art World, for me, has been place of mythology, unpredictability, cynicism and exploration instead of exactitude.  When my mentor, Hollis Taggart, first hired me in his eponymous gallery in New York City over twenty years ago, I naively asked the question, “What is an art dealer’s career really like.”  “Darling,” he said in his dissipated Southern draw while staring me straight in the eyes, “you better damn well strap in.”  No doubt it’s been a wild ride.

I consistently craft and shape the story of my life and my eponymous gallery — the Rebekah Jacob Gallery — recording in my handwritten journals most of what I see, broker, exhibit, and relate to in one way or another.  They say an art dealer’s selection of artwork to exhibit and broker is a direct derivative and translation of who she is within the visual arts canon and/or what who she intuitively wants to search out and explore.  My autobiography is my theme, and at times, my dilemma and obsession, as I try to tell my story, document my travels, and express my ideas about politics and social justice through my work — all while mining material from my two celebrated homes and cultures:  the American South and Cuba.

To distill and collate this visual resource — an online viewing room / platform — of photographic gems, I endeavor several tasks: I sift through my gallery journals filled with copious notes; journey to particular Southern spots for extensive periods and research ; and reference libraries and photography archives across the US and beyond.  The quests are not necessarily parallel but complementary, and it is these three monumental actions that propel this creative platform into a working, malleable formation.  

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To select and curate photographs to present to both new and seasoned collectors, I immerse myself in treasured private and institutional collections across the US and beyond.  To move among the archives of renowned photographers has been a lifetime’s privilege.  With my deepest gratitude to the beloved Masters themselves and the keeper of these archives, I am grateful to have been allowed the great honor of carefully sifting through thousands of contact sheets, works prints, photographs and notes — many still marked by the artist’s fingerprints. 

Meticulously preserved archives at the University of Mississippi (Oxford, Mississippi), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the College of Charleston (Charleston), i.e. —all have become invaluable resources.  I work diligently to select then share Southern photographer’s voices with both new and seasoned collectors, focusing from early 20th century - present.  I spend endless hours editing and sequencing images to arrive at the final selection of 30-50 photographs.  Some images included in the platform are published in various publications and news sources contemporary with the negative and since have widely circulated in print or web ; others have never been on public view. My diverse sources included vintage prints, estate prints, contact sheets, and publications. Anecdotes from contemporaries artists often add a human dimension.   

I have charted my course through the visual arts.  I have visited thousands of collections and artist’s studios all over the world, hopped on and off European trains to explore, flown on Russian planes in Cuba, and driven thousands of miles across American soil to mine material.  Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments, completely drawing from my imagination, unpredictability, and cynicism.  And at the cornerstone these rare, rich, documentary images that tell the stories and complexities of land, my land — the Great American South.

Rebekah Jacob

Owner and Founder ; Certified Appraiser

Rebekah Jacob on Civil Rights Photography (1960-1965)

By Rebekah Jacob

To have studied and explored the archive of the renowned civil rights photojournalist James Karales has been a lifetime's privilege.   In early 2000, I was allowed the honor of sifting through thousands of contact sheets, work prints, mounted photographs, notes, and magazines still marked by his fingerprints.  Although we never met, I have come to know the greatness of a man revealed both by what he recorded and by what was left unsaid.  

I first immersed myself in these treasures in preparation for the exhibition 1969:  Controversy and Hope / Iconic Images by James Karales, organized for the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in the spring of 2009.  Karales was a lifelong and avid photographer.  Woven throughout his oeuvre of photo-essays in his trademark compassion for social injustice and eye for political upheaval, whether on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in Vietnam, in the integrated mining town of Rendville, Ohio, or during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement.  the civil rights story offered perhaps the richest materials to mine for a book.  

 

The modest Karales only occasionally printed his work and rarely presented it in exhibitions or publications beyond the initial assignment for which it was created.  delving into his meticulously preserved archive, I worked to share Karales's voice with a larger audience, focusing on the period 1960-65.  Together with Julian Cox, we spent two years editing and sequencing more than 2,000 images to arrive at a final selection of 93 plates.  A modest percentage of the images included in this book were published in Look magazine, and some have since been reproduced in books and magazines, but the majority have never been exhibited or published.  Our extensive research also included the study of vintage prints in museum collections, the Karales Archive in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University, and a thorough review of the Look archives at the Library of Congress.  Photographs consigned from the Howard Greenberg Gallery and the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, were also vital resources.  Recollections shared by Karales's contemporaries Tony Vaccaro, Bob Adelman, Steve Shapiro, Matt Herron, and Paul Fusco added an invaluable human dimension to the project.  

 

The 190s were the heyday of the great photography magazines, providing working photographers with the opportunity to capture the spirt of the time in elaborate, multipage spreads with large images.  Civil rights leaders embraced the medium as a vehicle to inform and educate the general public and as a means to document their momentous journey.  Magazines were hungry to print images from the front lines.  Despite the dangers for journalists, photographers were drawn to the drama of the civil rights story and provided valuable witness to the demonstrations, arrests, riots, and burnings.  

With several camera slung around his neck and a cigarette in one hand, Karales focused his intense glaze on one of the most challenging issued in our nation's history.  He balanced the job's requirements with is own aesthetic to find a different story, one of tenderness and triumph.  Within the crowds his discerning eye discovered heroic portraits of individuals, such as a teenage boy enveloped by a massive, hand-stitched flag, or a youth with "vote" emblazoned across his forehead.  

Arguably the most signifiant work at this time comes from Karales's close access to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other key civil rights leaders.  One of only a few photographers to enter King's home, Karales crated images of Dr. King that go beyond the expected to portray quiet, telling moments.  One photograph reveals Dr. King's fatherly angst as he painfully broke the news to his young daughter that she was forbidden to visit an amusement park because of her race. The caption in the February 12, 1963, issue of Look reads:  "I told my child about the color bar."  

The photographs in this book, Controversy and Hope:  The Civil Rights Images of James Karales, present the range of civil rights assignments that Karales undertook in teh years 1960-1965:  nonviolent passive resistance training in Atlanta in 1960; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) convention in Birmingham in 1962; an intimate series of the King family at home in Atlanta in 1962; Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy's campaign in Birmingham in 1962, which includes pictures made in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with Rev. C.T. Vivian, Rosa Parks, and other leaders in attendance.  The story concludes with a selection of images documenting the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, which provided the culminating and iconic images of a movement that had become so personal Karales.  

Despite the passage of time, or perhaps heightened by it, we are able to see the integrity and clarity of Karales's vision against the backdrop of a crucial juncture in our shared history.  His work continues to compel us to remember both what divides us and what unites us.  It is my hope that this publication reveals previously untold moments in this pivotal era of American history. 

Preface by Rebekah Jacob, published in Controversy and Hope:  The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales, published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2013.