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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James Karales : Photographs of the Civil Rights Era

Controversy and Hope commemorates the civil rights legacy of James Karales (1930-2002), a professional photojournalist who documented the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights with a dedication and vision that led the New York Times to deem his work "a pictorial anthem of the civil rights movement." 

Equipped with ambition and a B.F.A. in photography from Ohio University in 1955, Karales headed to New York and found work as a darkroom assistant to master photographer W. Eugene Smith. Karales's earliest photo-essays had already come to the attention of Edward Steichen, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which acquired two of Karales's photographs from his series on the Greek American community of Canton, Ohio. Another early photo-essay, on the integrated mining community of Rendville, Ohio, was featured in Karales's first solo exhibition, held in 1958 at Helen Gee's Limelight gallery in Greenwich Village. From 1960 to 1971, Karales worked as a staff photographer for Look magazine, traveling the world during a time of dynamic social change and recording the harsh realities he witnessed at home and abroad.

By the time Karales documented the fifty-four-mile voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 he had already developed a strong relationship with its most prominent leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and had been granted unprecedented access to the King family. That connection translated into a powerful empathy in the photographs that still resonates for viewers today. 

The Village Voice described Karales's civil rights work as bearing "the weight of history and the grace of art." Controversy and Hope presents many of Karales's images from the era, including some photographs published here for the first time. Julian Cox, with the assistance of Rebekah Jacob and Monica Karales, has selected a bold representation of Karales's photographs, augmenting his visual legacy with biographical information and personal recollections. Civil rights leader Andrew Young, who appears in some of Karales's photographs, has provided a foreword to the volume.

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.