New Parisian exhibition showcases vintage half-a-century-old photos of Cuba by Agnes Varda

Posted: 17-Dec-15 14:31

A unique collection of rare Cuba photographs that are now over 50 years old has been compiled into a visually evocative collection now being exhibited at Paris' Pompidou Centre. Taken by living French cinematic female legend, Agnes Varda as part of the material that was to be used in her film "Salut les Cubains ", these previously discarded photographs, kept still in an immaculate condition, were recently unboxed by a curator who rescued them from oblivion are now on public display alongside the original film they inspired.

New Parisian exhibition showcases vintage half-a-century-old photos of Cuba by Agnes Varda

A rare vintage collection comprising over one thousand “never-meant-to-be-seen” photographs depicting the Cuba of the mid-1960s has recently been discovered by curator Clement Cheroux, who after looking through the old archives of the photographer in question, encouraged her to showcase them on a public exhibition.

Taken by the great dame of French cinema, Agnes Varda, during a trip she made to Cuba in 1963 with the purpose of compiling material for her film "Salut les Cubains", these images were cast aside after her production’s completion and remained untouched but immaculately preserved in boxes up until now when Cheroux’s hands rescued them from oblivion.

The full collection can be fully appreciated by the general public on a grand exhibition presented at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where they appear laid out in cinematic sequences, honouring their original purpose as material for Agnes Varda’s 30-minute film, which is played on a loop in the gallery.

These unique photographs perfectly capture the triumphant attitude and victorious atmosphere that could be breathed in Cuba at the dawn of the Revolution. The vibrant and optimistic flair of everyone, everywhere was intoxicating and highly photogenic, which makes for truly outstanding images that seem to be in movement and speak for themselves.

Agnes Varda explains that it was Chris Marker’ 1961 film, "Cuba Si", which inspired her own journey to Cuba while it was the filmmaker’s 1962 film La Jetee which motivated her to use the narrated photography method for her own Cuban production. The secondary reason for using still images was, she explains, to avoid lugging around heavy film-making equipment and later having to deal with bad sound.

Formally invited by the ICAIC (the Cuban film school whose initials stand for “Instituto Cuba del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos" Agnes Varda also says that she did not do any background study ahead of her trip, neither did she carry out any special preparation. She wanted it to be spontaneous and go with the flow, as she herself explains:

"I am not an intellectual, I was not at all politicised, I like being curious, and to learn from people … I tried to discover everything about Cuba by just being there."

It also helped that she did go there armed with ideas and addresses provided to her by Chris Marker, and that she could muster enough Spanish to have small conversations with strangers on the street. The balance of political renaissance (which is played down across all her pictures) and the general sense of vitality and party lifestyle that is so heavily embedded in Cuban culture was captured in what she calls the perfect blend of “socialism and cha-cha-cha”.

Her admiration of spontaneous bouts of street dancing is evident in many of her photographs which she describes as poetically beautiful. But her pictures went beyond urban landscapes, she also personally met the intoxicatingly cheerful and extremely photogenic Benny More (the King of Mambo and other Cuban popular Cuban sounds of the time), who was more than happy to give her an impromptu performance in the back of a restaurant, amidst carts filled with crockery.

She also climbed on a truck and rode her way along rural areas, snapping away at peasants in straw hats wielding machetes. She even got to photograph Fidel Castro in person after several attempts and it happened, like most things in Cuba, on a hastily arranged, last-minute date at his favourite restaurant. Of him, she says:

"He was good-looking, nice, calm. He incarnates Cuba the way Gary Cooper incarnates the wild, west."

Out of the 4,000 negatives that resulted from this trip, Varda developed 1,500 and soon after work began on the editing of the film which she aimed to turn into a “dance with fixed images”. To achieve this she edited her selected shots to a Cuban soundtrack that set a fervent, joyous pace.

She also added her own voiceover to talk people through some of the images, acknowledging the local bearded stereotypes and the cigars, but also other more overlooked aspects like the tendency of the local male population to put their arms around women’s shoulders in a way that was part affection and part possession or how little Cuban girls had dolls of races different to their own.

The film eventually came out in 1964, earning a bronze medal at the Venice documentary film festival. It might not have been a block-busting success but it ultimately wasn’t created with that purpose. The result is a short but highly evocative timeline of a very special period in Cuba – the hopeful 1960s that preceded the Cuban Revolution, saw the end of a dictatorship and inspired everyone with the promise of change and a more equal society for all.

As she recalls, even in those early years you could already see the contradictions of a place thriving and lacking at the same time:

"There was no food – they had to ration chicken. But there were exhibitions, films, ballets, poems. It was a cultural explosion."

Agnes Varda’s photographic collection will be on show at the Centre Prompidou until 1st February 2016.


Popular Holidays in cuba

OUR EXCLUSIVE DEALS AND LATEST OFFERS

Best Value

From £599 per person
villa pinares de mayari

Villa Pinares De Mayari

4.0 stars

Beautifully perched on the panoramic Mensura Hill, surrounded by striking greenery, this blessed and secluded natural...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £619 per person
villa mirador de mayabe

Villa Mirador De Mayabe

2.0 stars

This enchanting villa hotel is surrounded by exuberant tropical plants and is perfectly located in a high point towering...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
sercotel club cayo guillermo

Sercotel Club Cayo Guillermo

3.0 stars

The perfect haven for lovers of nature in its purest state, the Villa Cojimar hotel sits in an idyllic location amidst...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
club amigo atlantico guardalavaca

Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca

3.0 stars

Get away to one of Cuba's best kept secrets for a dream holiday at Club Amigo Atlantico. Guardalavaca is known to host...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
tryp cayo coco

Tryp Cayo Coco

4.0 stars

The perfect beach holiday awaits you the all-inclusive Tryp Cayo Coco hotel, where non-stop entertainment and utmost...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £699 per person
memories holguin

Memories Holguin

4.0 stars

Enjoy a perfect beach setting while you unwind in the historic sands of the all-inclusive Memories Holguin. A short...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation

More deals


Explore cuba your way

Tailor made cuba holidays

For those who prefer to travel at their own pace or to explore places not included in the brochure itineraries, we have years of experience at organising tailor-made holidays.

Create the perfect trip with the help of our specialists

Our expert tour consultants will be pleased to suggest ideas to complement your own and to organise the most appropiate programme to suit your interests, time and budget.

Call 0207 644 1600
to speak with our award-winning travel consultants.

If you would like a member of our team to contact you back, please click here Contact us