Spotlight

On the Path of Revolutionaries: Elliott Erwitt in Cuba

13th December 2021
Che Guevara, Havana, 1964 Elliott Erwitt

Words Alexandra MacKay

13th December 2021

Read Time: 4 minutes

Invited by President Fidel Castro, Elliott Erwitt visited Cuba in 1964 on assignment for Newsweek magazine. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis two years earlier, which saw escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union after the discovery of Soviet missiles on Cuba, and the closest the two nations came to nuclear war, American citizens were banned from visiting the Caribbean island. Though journalists were permitted entry, Erwitt describes the people’s suspicion and scepticism of these outside visitors.

Che-Guevara-Havana-1964-by-Elliott-Erwitt-BHC2843

    During his week-long visit, Erwitt was given unprecedented access to Castro and the revolutionary leader, Che Guevara. He photographed the president at work, in his car surrounded by crowds of eager onlookers and in more studied portraits. Erwitt remembers of Castro, ‘[he] was very photogenic. Kind of a cowboy.’ Both Castro and Guevara are photographed at ease with the camera, and often smoking fat cigars, Erwitt was reportedly offered a box of them by Guevara. Erwitt’s portraits of Guevara show the revolutionary deep in thought or with a wide grin that creases across his face. In 1964, only five years after the Cuban Revolution, Castro and Guevara sought to ignite further revolutions throughout South America, projecting an image of, as Erwitt’s photographs attest, charismatic leaders of the people.

    Erwitt returned to Cuba for two brief trips in 2015 and 2016, following the easing of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Returning to the country after over fifty years, Erwitt photographed a country in flux, at once beholden to the defining moment of the Cuban Revolution at the same time as seeking to move beyond it and to open up to the rest of the world.

    FeaturedElliott Erwitt

    Paris, France, 1989 Elliott Erwitt

    The ArtistKnown for his satirical humour and sharp wit, Elliott Erwitt (born 1928) rose to fame after he was invited to join Magnum Photos by founding member Robert Capa in the 1950s. He has since become one of the world’s most successful and influential photographers, having produced over twenty retrospective photography books and been honoured by numerous solo shows at establishments such as the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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