Cuba before Obama - as captured by René Burri

To mark the presidential visit, we look back at René Burri's photography of Cuba during and after the revolution
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One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

1 / 16 One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

2 / 16 One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Dancers rehearsing in Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

3 / 16 Dancers rehearsing in Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

At the beach near Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

4 / 16 At the beach near Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

Che Guevara at work, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

5 / 16 Che Guevara at work, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

6 / 16 One of Burri's contact-sheet images of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Che Guevara in the Ministry of Industry, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

7 / 16 Che Guevara in the Ministry of Industry, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Che Guevara in his office, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

8 / 16 Che Guevara in his office, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Chernobyl victims, Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

9 / 16 Chernobyl victims, Havana, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

People driving, Malecón, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

10 / 16 People driving, Malecón, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

La Rampa, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

11 / 16 La Rampa, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Pavel Popovich the Russian cosmonaut with Young Pioneers, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

12 / 16 Pavel Popovich the Russian cosmonaut with Young Pioneers, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Street vendor, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

13 / 16 Street vendor, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Militia guard, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

14 / 16 Militia guard, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

Local, Trinidad, central Cuba, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

15 / 16 Local, Trinidad, central Cuba, 1993. From René Burri: Photographs

René Burri's iconic photograph of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs

16 / 16 René Burri's iconic photograph of Che Guevara, Havana, 1963. From René Burri: Photographs


Thanks to his Swiss passport, the great Magnum photographer René Burri was able to breach borders his US and UK counterparts found difficult to cross. Burri shot in Cuba during the tumultuous years following the fall of Fulgencio Batista, when US citizens were largely banned from travelling to the island. He also visited in later decades, when the fall of the Soviet Union called the long-term survival of the Caribbean communist state into question.

President Obama’s visit to Havana could signal an end to the US trade and travel embargos that have shaped the country’s defiant national characteristics over the past 56 years. While many will welcome the thawing of relations, we should also give thanks that talented photographers such as Burri were able to visit and capture Cuban life during the later decades of the 20th century, so we can all see what it was like to live on the island during those years. To view more images from this brilliant photographer, consider our books, René Burri: Photographs and René Burri: Impossible Reminiscences.


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