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Osvaldo Salas (1914–1992)
Four farmers reading a resolution from ANAP, the Cuban National Association of Small Farmers
Cuba, 1961
Gelatin silver print, 24 x 30,3 cm
Signed in ink on the reverse

Alongside a reform of the social and healthcare-system, it was the revolutionary government’s major goal to improve the access to education. In the times of Batista’s regime, a fourth of the population was unable to read or write, the number of illiterates was as high as 40% in rural areas. Fidel Castro adopted ideas of the Cuban national poet José Martí when he defined the year 1961 as „Año de la Educación“, its core being the literacy campaign. This was made possible by the voluntary work of mostly urban adolescents and teachers, who, as so-called “Brigadistas”, taught the rural population within a year. By the end of 1961, the campaign had officially come to an end and the Cuban illiteracy rate was reduced to the lowest rate in Latin America.

Now capable of reading and writing, four men bend over a leaflet of ANAP, the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños, an advocacy for Cuban agricultural workers which was also founded in 1961. Wearing the classic headgear for fieldworkers, the Sombreros, these men seem to make use of a break and catch up on some political news. They form a contrast to pre-revolutionary farming scenes and genre photography, in which the bitter poverty of the rural population clad in rags dominated. The men’s pose serves the depiction of castrist policy apart from iconic portraits of the heroes of the revolution.

Osvaldo Salas stories wanted to show the new, better Cuba. Raised in New York, where he was working for “Life” and other magazines as a photographer, Salas had made a name for himself as a portraitist of Hollywood stars, artists and motifs from the world of boxing. In 1959, he returned to his homecountry together with his 18-year old son Roberto. In the years that followed, father and son were regarded as chroniclers of the revolution and Osvaldo Salas became editor-in-chief at the photographic division of the party’s paper “Revolución”.

Isabella Riedel © WestLicht

Literature: Con el espíritu de los Maestros Ambulantes. La Campaña de la Alfabetizatión Cubana, 1961, Melbourne, New York, Havana: Ocean Press 2001.