CUBA FLASHBACK: PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION
(LPP Archive - "The Best Way To Feel The Touch" ) - Thursday, June 6th 2002, 1:80AM
On Dec. 31, 1959, photographer Burt Glinn left a fancy New Year's Eve bash in New York to join a wild party in Havana.
Forty-two years and 50 rolls of film later, the photos Glinn took over a nine-day period have been turned into "Havana: The Revolutionary Moment" (Umbrage), a chronicle of the anarchic first days of Fidel Castro's rise to power that features dozens of stark, black-and-white photos of a nation in revolutionary fervor.
Glinn, then 33 years old and working for the Magnum Photos agency, spent much of his time following Castro on his triumphant march into Havana after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island.
Myriad pictures show Castro being mobbed by adoring crowds along the way.
"I just latched onto Fidel, and people everywhere jumped in and joined the procession, too," says Glinn, who had borrowed cash from New Year's revelers at the Manhattan party, grabbed his cameras, flew into Havana by daybreak and subsisted for several days on rum and cigars.
"Havana was chaotic," recalls Glinn. "Everybody had a gun or a machete and thought they were part of the revolution. I couldn't speak Spanish, and I never knew where I was going. I didn't have a plan, but I knew it was history in the making."
Also captured on film were grim reminders of how the revolution tore the country apart. Several photos depict gun battles in the streets of Havana, while others show rebel soldiers holding members of Batista's secret police at gunpoint - some of them likely were executed in subsequent weeks.
Glinn, an award-winning photographer from Manhattan whose work has appeared in Time, Look and Parade since 1950, had published "one or two" of his Cuba photos in Life and Stern, a German magazine.
It was only after poring over the collection of pictures on the 25th anniversary of the revolution, in 1984, that he saw it as "a complete body of work," says Glinn.
"But it took 15 years to bring it to fruition. People weren't that interested in publishing something like this."
Glinn realizes the book, as well as an accompanying photo exhibit that opened at The Americas Society yesterday, may offend the anti-Castro Cuban community in the U.S. (especially with a foreword by Rafael Acosta de Arriba, an arts official in the Cuban government).
However, he insists that "politics had nothing to do with the book.
"I know it's a delicate subject to people who had a bad experience because of the revolution," says Glinn. "Even though it was a great journalistic experience, I was torn both ways about it. I always wished Castro had done better for Cuba, and that America had done a better job handling him."