You don’t get a second chance to photograph a revolution. There are no re-runs of the storming of the presidential palace and corrupt dictators only flee the once.
Young Magnum photographer Burt Glinn was celebrating New Years Eve at a black tie party in New York in 1958 when he heard whispers that Cuba’s US-sponsored dictator was making preparations to escape Havana, as Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army advanced on the city.
Seizing his opportunity, Glinn borrowed $400 from Magnum president Cornell Capa, picked up his camera gear and raced to NY’s La Guardia airport just in time to make the last flight to Miami.
When Glinn arrived in Havana early the next morning, he had already missed Batista’s hurried exit. Nobody was in charge and no-one knew what would happen next, or where Fidel Castro was. But over the subsequent ten days, Glinn documented the defining moments of the Cuban Revolution.
“At 11pm on December 31, 1958, I decided to fly to Cuba,” Glinn recalls. “At daybreak, I was sharing the streets of Havana with hundreds of delirious Cubans. Within four days, I had found Fidel, and by January 10 this project was completed.”
Glinn’s images have become one the defining photographic records of the victory of the Cuban Revolution. But the chaos and uncertainty that met him when he arrived in Havana meant that documenting the momentous events was no easy task. As Glinn said, “you just can’t hail a taxi and ask the cabbie to take you to the revolution.”
Glenn captured the triumphant scenes as Castro and his supporters swept into the city and the jubilation of ordinary Cubans at their liberation. But revolutions aren’t all fun and games and Glinn photographed Castro supporters emerging from hiding, gunshots being fired, panic on the streets and the rounding up of the Batista Secret Police.
Cuba 1959 is the product of the first ever unrestricted access to Burt Glinn’s incredible archive and his up-close and personal record of the Cuban Revolution plays out like a thriller.
Cuba 1959 by Burt Glinn is published by Reel Art Press.