Digital gallery reveals young, hopeful Castro

DUKE (US)—Candid photos of Fidel Castro taken in 1964 by journalist Deena Stryker are part of a new digital collection at Duke University available online.

It was a time in Cuba when Castro could be photographed in his austere apartment, laughing and surrounded by friends as he does sit-ups in a make-shift gym. Stryker had unusual access to all aspects of Cuban lives, to capture moments from both public events and the personal lives of political leaders and regular people.

An American with dual French citizenship, Stryker used contacts through the Agence France-Presse to make connections in Cuba.  The collection includes more than 1,800 photos from 1963-64, a time that Stryker said was marked “by energy and optimism.”

“I was constantly aware that I was witnessing something very special and that the usual barriers between citizens and the government had been diluted,” Stryker says. “The informality you see in the photos was real.”

Holly Ackerman, Duke librarian for Latin America and Iberia and a Cuba specialist, says the photos carry a certain spirit that she said is hard to find now. She believes the photos made available through the Archive of Documentary Arts in the Duke Special Collections Library will be heavily used by the many scholars and non-scholars interested in learning more about the early years of the Cuban revolution.

Picturing Cuba
The Deena Stryker Photographs collection dates from July 1963 to July 1964 and contains photographs and related materials from Stryker’s two working trips to Cuba. It was during her second trip to the island from December 1963 to July 1964 that she interviewed and photographed Fidel and Raúl Castro as well as other major figures in the Cuban Revolution.

“These are not the official photographs,” Ackerman says. “You see a young Fidel doing exercises on his porch. There are many photos of Celia Sanchez, one of the few people who could always talk back to Fidel without him retaliating. She was a very important person, someone who acted almost as a national intermediary or ombudsperson. If you needed assistance, you would call her and she would get it done.”

Ackerman says the images also present rarely seen sides of the leaders. “It was a very hopeful time,” Ackerman adds. “It’s nostalgic to look back on them now.”

“It’s my hope that these photos will be viewed as witness to a specific period in the Cuban Revolution,” Stryker says, “at a time when momentous changes in our relations with Cuba may be on the horizon.”

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