Cuba, Baseball, and Walter Iooss Jr.

by Chris Murray on March 5, 2013

The New York Times published a story today on Cuba’s victories the last few days over Brazil and China in this year’s World Baseball Classic. It also wrote about the Cuban people’s ongoing love of baseball.

Govinda Gallery had the great pleasure of organizing an exhibition in Havana at Fototeca de Cuba of Walter Iooss Jr.’s baseball photographs. We enjoyed a first hand opportunity to see the tremendous enthusiasm for both Cuban and American baseball on that beautiful Caribbean island.

Baseball Clásico opened on March 4th, 2004 and fans, former and current Cuban baseball players, as well as admirers of photography, attended in droves.

While the exhibition featured Iooss’ photographs of American baseball players, stadiums, spring training, and more, he had also photographed young aspiring baseball enthusiasts on the streets of Havana in 1999.

Iooss told me that of all his photographs the image below is his favorite. He also told me, as most artists have, that he can always see improvements he could make in his images, but that his photo of a young batter about to hit a homemade baseball with the Old Havana neighborhood children looking on, was a perfect picture. I agree.

Havana, Cuba, 1999. Copyright © Walter Iooss Jr. All Rights Reserved.

During Iooss’ Basebal Clásico exhibition I showed the photo, which we used on the invitation card, to cab drivers and horse-and-buggy drivers in Old Havana, hoping to find the very corner where Iooss’ remarkable photo was taken. Iooss had no idea where it was. One afternoon a horse-and-buggy driver I gave the card to knew the location of the photo… In fact, he had lived there. He took me to the very spot where the photo had been taken and the amazing thing was that the kids in the photo were all still living in the neighborhood and hanging out on the corner. I gave the invitation to everyone there and they were delighted to have their corner memorialized in Iooss’ photograph. We returned the next day with cervezas, sodas, juices, chocolate, and more invitation cards, and had a spontaneous party in the street.

Knowing I wanted to show Walter Iooss what had happened in the streets, we reassembled the cast, including the star of the photo, the batter, and took another picture that day recreating Iooss’ original. Everyone had a great time. I could not resist getting in a version of the photo myself. Both photos we reproduce here. I still remain friends with a number of the subjects in the photograph. What a great day it was. Play Ball!

Copyright © José Filosa. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © José Filosa. All Rights Reserved.

Below is the invitation text from Walter Iooss’ Baseball Clásico exhibition for your reference. Walter Iooss’ photographs are available through Govinda Gallery.

“Walter Iooss, Jr. began photographing baseball as a teenager. One of his first assignments for Sports Illustrated was to capture Roger Maris’s attempt to break Babe Ruth’s home-run record. Since that time, Iooss has continued to photograph the game and its key players, many of whom have become his close friends.

This exhibition features classic images taken during a forty-year period, from Maris’s record-breaking home run in 1961 to McGwire’s in 1998. Iooss has created one of the most definitive portraits of the game with photographs of such legends as Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantel, Sandy Koufax, Cal Ripkin, and Sammy Sosa, to name just a few. Classic Baseball also includes photographs of ballparks, such as the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park, as well as of the managers and the victory celebrations.

A long-time staff member of Sports Illustrated, Iooss has produced stunning portraits of Olympians, golfers, and basketball players, not to mention his hugely popular Sports Illustrated series of swimsuit model photographs. He has published books on many sports, most recently Classic Baseball: The Photographs of Walter Iooss, Jr., with text by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., publisher).

Special thanks to Fototeca de Cuba for hosting this exhibition. Classic Baseball follows the highly acclaimed exhibition, La Revolucion del Rock & Roll (at Fototeca de Cuba in 2002), and is a part of an ongoing artistic exchange between Fototeca de Cuba and Govinda Gallery.”

Christopher Murray, Director, Govinda Gallery

Category: Blog, Events   

2 responses to “Cuba, Baseball, and Walter Iooss Jr.”

  1. Diane Seeger says:

    What a heart warming story and friendship with these avid Cuban baseball fans! It’s exciting to return and discover the same group hanging out on the corner! Loos is a fantastic photographer!!! Continue sharing these wonderful adventures with your fans!!!

  2. Paul Steinberg says:

    Chris –
    Helen and I went to Cuba 12 years ago with a group of students from American University. We brought 60 baseballs with us (We live behind Friendship Park in D.C. and collect baseballs that come into our yard). We found kids just as in the above photo; and, when it was a small group of 3-4 kids, we’d give a baseball to each one of them – I have never ever seen kids more excited than when they received a real ball – and didn’t have to continue to play with rocks and a stick.

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