In the historic River North Gallery District on the second floor of 300 W Superior, you’ll find The Rangefinder Gallery. There you will be welcomed into gallery owner Dan Tamarkin’s Leica camera shop. Just past there, you’ll walk into the bright, clean warmth of the Rangefinder Gallery’s current exhibit: Cuba: Photographs of an Era by influential and talented photographer Roberto Salas.
The show is here thanks to Tamarkin physically transporting every photograph by hand from Cuba to Miami to Chicago. Tamarin also gives a special shout-out to collaborators at Complete Cuba, a travel group dedicated to sharing Cuba’s rich history and culture, for without them this exhibit would not have been possible. This collaboration has created a collection of never-before-seen portraits of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro that shouldn’t be missed.
Cuba: Photographs of an Era by Roberto Salas, will without a doubt take you on its intended journey of intimacy and privacy. Son of widely recognized press photographer Osvaldo Salas, Roberto Salas embarked on a life-altering voyage at 15 years when he and his father were granted ‘privileged’ access to photograph Fidel Castro and his cadre during their 26 July Movement.
Roberto Salas’s resulting black-and-white portraits give exuberant light and colorful layers to an already controversially complicated figure. What makes this exhibit so potent is that Salas peels off the layers of how Castro was viewed outside Cuba and captures the man behind every photo. A narrative threads the photographs together.
One picture that highjacked my attention was a stunning print of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who was also part of the movement to overthrow the Batista dictatorship. In the picture Castro is lighting a cigar, a cloud of smoke in the air while Guevara is leaning over Castro’s left shoulder. The before and after moments of these two icons in this shot is up to the spectator to imagine. However, the captured moment of the two revolutionary icons is priceless and worth a thoughtful gaze.
Tamarkin states that “there are many topical factors that make [Cuba: Photographs of an Era] a thrilling, groundbreaking gallery exhibit and a top thing to see this spring.” One over-arching factor that makes this exhibit so timely is the new U.S. administration. One wonders how the current government will uphold or oppose the current standing between the U.S. and Cuba. This also factors in former president Obama’s initiation of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and the subsequent rise in Cuban tourism. One also wonders about the implications these factors may have on the large Cuban population in Chicago. This exhibit is timely and important. Don’t miss it while it’s here.