In late 2016, photographer Michael Christopher Brown photographed the funeral cortège transporting Fidel Castro’s ashes from Havana to his birthplace, Santiago. The route mirrored Fidel’s post-revolutionary journey from Santiago to Havana in 1959, which helped solidify the leader’s status as a hero and legend. Miraculously, Brown managed to join the military convoy carrying Castro’s cremated remains. Leaning out of the rear window and over the hood of his vehicle, driven by a former Cuban truck driver, Brown photographed hundreds of thousands of Cubans waiting alongside the highway for the caravan to pass.
The images Brown made of the mourners, many holding hand-made signs reading Yo Soy Fidel (I am Fidel), Cuban flags, and various historic photographs of revolution, are the subject of a new book and exhibition, both titled Yo Soy Fidel. There is also an accompanying video of the journey, with Brown’s narration.
In Yo Soy Fidel, fragments of the original – inimitable – image of Castro remain. Yet Castro’s death inevitably leads to the question of what is to come for Cuba. In this remarkable moment, the country faces a choice of whether or not to stay true to Castro’s revolutionary path or embrace globalization and all it entails.
Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker, who authored a text for the book, writes of the work, “we see Cubans as they are, in the end, without Fidel, modest people of ordinary appearance in a mostly rural landscape, a Cuba largely unchanged in outward appearance since the days when he came through, promising revolution and a new future, as a young man of thirty-two.”
The book’s editor, Martin Parr, writes, “Despite the ubiquity of Cuban imagery, this is one remarkable event that, I suspect, will become even more valuable as a record of Cuba than any number of photographs of vintage American cars and crumbling architecture.”
Yo Soy Fidel
By Michael Christopher Brown
Published by Damiani
Exhibited at Arles 2018: Les Rencontres De La Photographie
July 2 – September 23, 2018