If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

Friday’s mail brought a copy of the newly published I Was Cuba: Treasures from the Ramiro Fernandez Collection, edited by Kevin Kwan. This stunning coffee table book chronicles the history of Cuba in hundreds of pictures. From the first days of photography until the early days of the revolution, it’s all in here: Havana night life, gas station openings and Victorian family dinners, sports figures and circus performers. In addition, there are shots of Che, ardent milicianas and he whose name I don’t feel like mentioning since he may not remember it.
What sets this volume apart from the usual nostalgic “Cuba of yesteryear” books is that it is conscious throughout not only of recreating a past, but also of photography as an art form. Ramiro Fernandez, who spent much of his career as a photography editor for Time, Inc., has devoted a life to amassing photos of the lost world, as if to reassure himself that the Cuba he remembered once existed. His collection is considered among the finest archives of Cuba photos in world.
This pictorial history is a perfect rebuttal to those who insist on seeing pre-Revolutionary Cuba as a third world country on a par with underdeveloped nations in Latin America and Africa. I warn you, though, to get out your hanky before you embark on your journey to the Cuba of the past. You’ll need it, particularly when you come across the occasional text from the works of Reinaldo Arenas. A gorgeous book, it would make the perfect holiday gift for the cubanophile in your life.