Fidel Comes to New York

I.C. RapoportPhotojournalism, Uncategorized2 Comments

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FIDEL CASTRO

(April 1959)

     Three and a half months after he removed dictator Batista from power in Havana, revolutionary Fidel Castro, the Presidente of Cuba, and his band of romantic, world-wide heroes, came to New York on an unofficial visit. It was, April 1959, and it signaled the springtime of a new deal for the Cuban people. The whole world became enamored with him; Fidel, the handsome, daring, winner of a Twentieth Century Revolution.

     When Paul Slade asked me to assist with the coverage of Castro’s visit I grabbed my Nikons and followed him down to the New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street. Fidel had first stopped at the United Nations and met with Vice President Nixon. Whatever happened in those meetings is probably a secret but it sure didn’t help our alliance with Castro.  

    For the most part I acted as Slade’s assistant, shooting pictures from the “off angles” and handing my film to him. But, Slade asked me to stay in the New Yorker as long as Castro was there and to follow him should he leave, then he went home.

In his hotel suite, Fidel Castro talks to reporters about his sucessful Cuban revolution to ouster Dictator Batista

In his hotel suite, Fidel Castro talks to reporters about his successful Cuban revolution to ouster Dictator Batista

After hours of waiting in the hallway near the door to Castro’s suite, I found myself with two or three other stalwart reporters when suddenly we were asked if we wanted to talk to, and photograph, the El Commandante. The small group filed into the suite’s sitting room. Fidel was standing in a doorway of one of the bedrooms, his arm on the doorframe, speaking to someone hidden in the room. When I raised my Nikon to photograph Fidel, one of his aides motioned for me to stop.

    Not wanting to get sent out I waited with the rest of the camera people.

In his hotel suite, Fidel Castro talks to reporters about his sucessful Cuban revolution to ouster Dictator Batista

    I looked around for some clue as to where Castro would settle down for this “interview and photo-shoot” and noticed an impression on one of the small sofas where a body had sat. It was directly in front of a large ashtray with a dead cigar.

    I dropped down ON my knees directly in front of that spot and waited and sure enough, Fidel walked to the sofa and sat across from me and I had used my head to find the best possible angle to photograph him.

    Though Match never used any of my Castro pictures, the images remain some of the best candid portraits of the thirty-four year old head-of-state lost in his reveries and contemplating a very uncertain future.  

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                           The “iconic” shot – Fidel, his cigar and Zippo lighter