Category: Blog

Black Star Collection Research

Jorge Ayala, Research fellow at the Ryerson Image Centre Toronto Canada

Today, I start research work at the Ryerson Research Centre in Toronto, Canada. I am the recipient of the 2018 Elaine Ling Fellowship awarded by the RIC, and the focus of my research will be images of Cuba in the Black Star Collection taken in the 1960 to 1990 period.

In the post-revolution years, Cuba had gradually restricted access to foreign press, filmmakers and tourists. Images of life on the island were mostly obtained from locally produced films which, due to the US embargo, had very limited distribution.

Slowly reopening to tourism in the early 1990s as the heavily Soviet-subsidized economy collapsed, Cuba retained a slight veil of mystery around itself. Snapshots of beautiful but crumbling Havana buildings, colourful 1950s American cars, and the Buena Vista Social Club film became the cliché imagery of an island exoticized by tourists, visitors and foreign media alike.  In 2017, a hashtag search about Cuba on Instagram, reveals a similar pattern of clichés about the Cuban image.Read on

The History of Newsreels

Newsreels are an important witness to the history of the 20th Century. Actualités – Actualities, in English- was the term used by the Lumiére Brothers to describe their first films. For 55 seconds, a length determined by the 65 feet film reels they used, these seminal short films were based on encountered life. Their topics included everyday events, places and scenes, as encountered by these first cameramen: They showed life in its actuality. Their tone ranged from the comic to the dramatic, with the occasional news report. The exhibition of these short films was done mostly by travelling showmen, who bought them from film agencies, and screened until the prints themselves were worn out. On January 5, 1896, The Lumiéres hired Félix Mesguich as a Cinématographe operator and put him in charge of its launch in the United States. He eventually would pursue a solo career as a cameraman and producer, traveling all over Europe and the rest of the world, and is now considered the world’s first film reporter.Read on

Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil

Jorge Ayala curator Cuban photography

Attracted by the dramatic changes spearheaded by the new revolutionary government, foreign journalists began to flock to Cuba in 1959. Initially granted unprecedented access to Fidel Castro and his cohort of bearded rebels, these photojournalists and their local counterparts produced many of the photographs that would become central to the construction of the Cuban Revolution’s image.

“Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil” (Study, Work, Rifle)—the motto for Cuba’s Unión of Jóvenes Comunistas (Union of Young Communists)—evokes the communist ideals of the “New Man.” “Study” would deepen citizens’ knowledge and capacity to act, “Work” would contribute to the construction of a new society, and the “Rifle” would provide defence for the Revolutionary cause.

Reflecting these guiding principles, the photographs on view here are by Alberto Díaz Gutierrez “Korda,” Cuban fashion photographer turned chronicler of the Revolution, whose iconic portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara became an international symbol of revolutionary spirit; the American “Flip” Schulke, witness to the first days of the Revolution who would go on to document the US Civil Rights Movement; and American photojournalist Fred Ward, whose seven months on the Island culminated with the 1978 book Inside Cuba Today .… Read on