R o n n y   L e v a

"I traveled to Cuba for the first time in 1993. What surprised me was the dignity of the Cuban town and the great force with which everybody fought against the embargo, without resigning to the revolutionary ideal. The smiles of the people on the street, the cordiality and the hospitality toward me were like a spell, a memory which I always keep in my heart, day after day." —Ronny Leva

Mr. Leva was born in 1954 in Lecce, Italy. He graduated in Architecture, but soon left the profession to open a gallery in Lecce to sell fine offset prints by photographers, painters, and artists such as Miró, Kandinski, and Chagall. During this time his love for photography grew, and from 1993 to 1997 he visited Cuba many times. He is most fascinated by the color of the land and the passion of the Cuban people. Many of his photographs have been published in Cuba as postcards and are still very popular. His photo "15 años con bandera" was chosen for the International Magazine of Cuban Aviation Sol y Son. More of his work was recently published in the Encyclopedia of Cuba (Greenwood Press) by Luis Martinez-Fernandez of Rutgers University, New York.

Two aspects of Cuba are immediately realized by any tourist: the rich colors of cars, murals, and houses, and the abundance of American automobiles from the 1950s and 60s. Cuba was the largest importer of American cars until the Revolution in 1960 and, since then, Russia has been the main auto exporter to the island; however, no car has lasted as long as the American product, and many Cubans are adept at keeping them running in almost-perfect condition to this day. Since parts are no longer made, it's common for the body of an old household water heater, for example, to be reshaped by the hands of a master into a front end, a hood, or a fender, and with a new coat of paint, no one can tell the difference.

For some Cubans, the car, as taxi, is their main source of revenue, earning up to $50 per day in an economy where the average Cuban makes $15-25 a month. From the examples in Ronny's photos, one can see the results of the attentiveness that each car receives from its owner. Some sparkle as they did the day they emerged from the factories of Detroit. —Stuart Vail

K o r d a

On March 5, 1960, Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, known simply as "Korda," took what has become one of the most widely-reproduced photographs in the world—the infamous image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Titled "Guerrillero Heroico," it was taken at the funeral of victims of the sinking of a steamboat sabotaged in the port of Havana, and has since been used in Cuba on pesos, banners, flags, T-shirts, stamps, medals, bracelets, necklaces, and even tattoos. Korda was a successful skin diving and fashion photographer who adopted the surname "Korda" early in his career after the Hungarian filmmakers Zoltan and Alexander Korda. When he and a partner opened their first commercial studio in 1956, Batista was running the country with a lot of financing from corrupt U.S. and mafia business interests. Young Castro succeeded in overthrowing Batista in 1959, and Korda became his official photographer. His sensitive portraits of the poor and the common folk reinforced in the minds of the people the sense that the Revolution was for them. Castro must have been aware of the value of Korda's photography in "marketing" his new regime, and welcomed him into his inner circle for the next decade.

During his visits to Cuba, Ronny Leva met and became friends with Korda. Click the image below to see the two together.

To learn more about Batista and how Castro came to power,
read this excellent essay by Jerry Sierra.

Contact Ronny Leva:
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