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Zoe Álvarez: The accidental observer of history

Zoe Álvarez: The accidental observer of history

Call it destiny, karma, divine intervention or human effort, we are sometimes lucky enough to be present when great things happen or to live in a time of decisive events. This is the case of Zoe Alvarez, who lived not only in the 1960s, but in Cuba in a time of significant change.

One morning, the slender, delicate and very blonde Zoe got into her 1955 Chevy and headed for the usual photo session with one of the great photographers of the time, Alberto Korda, who took the world-famous picture of Che Guevara. Zoe’s image was that of the spirit of the times—liberating and revolutionary. Every day she would come home dreaming of being part of a unique moment, a turning point. In the late 1960s, she had already been seduced by the irresistible force of photography and began to capture innumerable special moments and important figures in Cuba.

Throughout the world, including Cuba, photography has been filled with contradictions of whether it was art or not. One thing was clear though: photographs were objects with a life of their own, both a mirror of the photographer’s emotions and sensibilities, and a window on the world. In time, photographers have been considered artists first and foremost, which use this medium for their artistic expression.

In Cuba, the past five decades have seen the emergence of many great photographers who have gained renown and others who have remained anonymous. The photograph of the 1960s was led by Maria Eugenia Haya Jiménez, aka Marucha, who documented the hectic times reflecting the epic deeds and strength of the Cuban people manifested through social and political change. She also saved from oblivion a large part of the memory of our popular culture through pictures taken by many anonymous photographers. This spiritual mission led the way to the creation of Fototeca de Cuba—Cuba’s Photographic Library, which is an integral part of Cuba’s cultural heritage.

Zoe Alvarez is one of those anonymous photographers who, like many others, was captivated by what was happening around her. Her pictures, however, have a more intimate and personal side to them. One of her favorite subjects was musicians. Her pictures discover many important figures in Cuban music, like Nueva Trova singer-songwriters Sara Gonzalez, Noel Nicola, Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodriguez; legendary names such as Elena Burke, Miriam Ramos and Martha Valdes; youthful musicians Argelia Fragoso, Eduardo Ramos and Emiliano Salvador; international musicians Joan Manuel Serrat, Ana Belén, Chico Buarque, Maria Bethania, Djavan and Danny Rivera, among others. She photographed the revolution of cultural values ??and identity that was taking place within the island and which wanted to be part of the world. Experimentation was a constant exercise of creativity, spirit and freedom.

“The first time I held a camera in my hands,” Zoe confesses, “I felt something strange and unforgettable, something that I cannot describe as sensation but as emotion. It was as if for the first time in my life, I had the power of choice, of deciding for myself what I wanted to do. As part of that generation, I felt I could not miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime chance of capturing so much beauty and revealing them through my photographs. My pictures were born after listening to a song or after an embrace. They depict real life, freedom in its purest form—only love and music.” May 2012

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