During the mid-1960s, when Jose Alberto Figueroa worked as the studio assistant to renowned Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, he regularly shot photographs of friends, family and his daily life in Havana. Figueroa never printed those negatives and never considered them aesthetic material, worthy of exhibition. As a photographer, he is generally regarded as a product of the ’70s, when he began working as a photojournalist for Cuba magazine — where he covered Cuban involvement in the Angolan Civil War and various aspects of domestic life. (Some of these images will be on view in a show that opens at New York’s International Center of Photography this week.)
The 1960s photographs were long forgotten by Figo (as he is known to friends and family), and only surfaced several years ago, when he and his wife, curator Cristina Vives, began searching through his archives for material that would become the book Jose A. Figueroa: A Cuban Self-Portrait. “We realized right away that there was important material here that had not been seen before,” Vives said of the images — which include photographs of friends going to parties and hanging out; of carnival and beach parties. Most striking are images of the artist’s mother preparing to leave the country.
First exhibited in Cuba in 2006 when Figo turned 60, and later in Finland, the collection Mis 60/My 60s, now on view at the Couturier Gallery in L.A., constitutes an intimate and unique portrait of Cuba in the 1960s. They are worth seeing not only for their beauty, but for the exhilarating counterpoint they provide to a place that is known almost exclusively through a near-mythical revolutionary lens.
Mis 60/My 60s is up at Couturier through Oct. 16.