The International Center for Photography in NYC presents/..The Mexican Suitcase and Cuba in Revolution
It's kind of a small, sterile-feeling space–think institutional gallery rather than museum–but New York City's International Center of Photography almost always puts on a good show. And the two exhibitions running now are particularly noteworthy, both for photojournalists (and its fans, like us) as well as anyone easily engaged by 20th-century history (um…. also like us).
The Mexican Suitcase exhibition begins with a remarkable story. In 2007, three boxes were delivered unannounced to the International Center for Photography in NYC, the contents of which turned out to be the legendary long-lost negatives from the cameras of war photography giants Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour, known as Chim. These 126 rolls of film, containing some 4,500 photos, mostly of the combatants in and the civilians whose lives were destroyed by the Spanish Civil War, had disappeared in 1939. Years of searching by Cornell Capa, Robert's brother, had proved fruitless, until finally a combination of luck and determination led Cornell to Mexico City, and a battered old suitcase filled with film.
Turns out, unfortunately, that the back story of the Mexican Suitcase is a bit more interesting than the exhibition itself. Sure, there are plenty of terrific, pioneering photographs on display at the International Center for Photography in New York, including Capa's shots of the brutal Battle of Tureal, and Chim's portraits of the Basque country, and Taro's coverage of the People's Army training camps, as well as her final photographs, taken at the Battle of Brunete, during which she was killed. Great stuff, but there's disappointingly few shots enlarged enough to really see, hung among pages and pages of contact sheets. Yes, it's interesting to witness the artist's creative process, and see the outtakes, but we left these galleries feeling decidedly unsatisfied by our photographic intake.
That said, the ICP's exhibition downstairs, Cuba in Revolution, saved the day. Here, in dozens of rare vintage prints–some instantly recognizable, many new to us, all spread out over the New York's International Center for Photography spacious below-ground galleries–is the story of one of the most surprising and, in its own way, influential events of the post-war era, the Cuban Revolution of 1959. There are plenty of iconic images in this show, by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raul Corrales, Burt Glinn, and you'll find the original cropping of what has become perhaps the most recognizable portrait on the planet, Alberto Korba's "Heroic Guerrila", the shot of a beret-wearing Che Guevara on a speaker's dais that launched a billion-dollar T-shirt industry.
But there are also dozens of surprising moments captured at the International Center for Photography museum collection, large and small. An American tourist acting like, well… like an American tourist at Havana's once grand Hotel Nacional, a few years before Castro and his ragtag, bearded army took over the place. Castro golfing, Castro riding a tank, Castro skiing in Russia at the height of the Cold War. Che as an impossibly handsome young man, beardless. Che relaxing on his bed, sipping mate. Che dead, executed in Bolivia, looking every bit the sainted martyr. Taken as a whole, Cuba in Revolution offers a fascinating perpective, seen from many different angles, of a time and a place the world won't soon forget.
The Mexican Suitcase and Cuba in Revolution at the International Center for Photography Details
The Mexican Suitcase and Cuba in Revolution are on display at the International Center of Photography from now through January 9th. The ICP is located on Sixth Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas) and 43rd Street, and is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00, and on Friday until 8:00 p.m. Closed Monday. For more information about the International Center of Photography and these two exhibitions, please see the International Center for Photography NYC website.