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On New Year’s Eve 1958, young Magnum photographer Burt Glinn was celebrating at a black tie party in New York. All the talk that evening was of corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, rumoured to be ready to flee for his life from Havana and said to have already backed his army trucks up to the treasury.

Glinn borrowed $400 from Magnum president Cornell Capa, grabbed his camera gear, raced to La Guardia just in time to make the last flight to Miami. He arrived just after dawn in Havana, Batista had fled, Fidel was still hundreds of miles away, nobody knew where, Che Guevara was on his way to Havana and nobody seemed to be in charge. As Glinn said “you just can’t hail a taxi and ask the cabbie to take you to the revolution”.

Glinn’s photojournalistic fervour ensured he made it to the middle of the action to capture the Cuban Revolution as it unfolded on the ground. As Glinn said, “I could get up as close as I wanted.” His magnificent photographs convey the revolutionary idealism, mayhem and excitement of that moment in history. For the first time ever, unrestricted access has been given to the extraordinary Burt Glinn archive and the result is Cuba 1959, a first hand account that runs almost like a movie.

This book includes black and white and colour Cuban photographs of Glinn’s. Che had arrived in Havana to cheering crowds, Camilo Cienfuegos was on his way as were the real “Barbudos” who poured into Havana from the surrounding hills. Castro supporters emerged from hiding. Photographs of gunshots being fired, chaos on the streets, the rounding up of the Batista Secret Police, the prominent women rebels, ecstatic reunions between mothers and sons as the revolutionaries returned home. The “abrazo” embrace was the gesture of the day for everyone as Cubans celebrated their liberation. Fidel, his aide Celia Sanchez and their escort of 11 ‘bearded ones’ had travelled from the Sierra Maestra through Santiago, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Cienfuegos towards Havana gathering tanks, jeeps, buses, bicycles and thousands of supporters along the way.

L'Oeil de la Photographie

28 Jan, 2016

Editorial