© Lisl Steiner
May 2nd, 1959. Fidel Castro has just arrived in Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he will deliver a speech to chancellors and special ambassadors of the OEA Economical Council of the 21 at the ninth floor of the Palace of Industry and Commerce Ministry, where he will propose the creation of a Latin American Single Market.
The expectation is huge and a massive quantity of journalists, photographers and movie camera operators from all over the world are surrounding him at the moment.
Two years and three months have elapsed since the publication of the interview made by Herbet Matthews to the Cuban guerrilla leader at Sierra Maestra and published by The New York Times, and only four months since Castro has made his triumphant entry into Santiago de Cuba, declaring it provisional capital of the country, and Manuel Urrutia Lleó has been named interim president replacing the dictator Fulgencio Bastista, ousted on January 1, 1959.
Moreover, the indescribable thrill is greatly enhanced by the fact that it´s widely known that Ernesto Che Guevara, an Argentinian doctor, has become one of the most important men of the Cuban Revolution that has toppled Batista, and has been personally fighting on the front line for two years in a number of attacks on Batista´s army like the onslaught on El Uvero headquarters on May 28, 1957, Pino del Agua on September 17, 1957, the assault on Güinía de Miranda headquarters on October 26, 1957, the great offensive against the key stronghold of Santa Clara on December 28, 1957 and the capture of the military fortress of La Cabaña in La Habana on January 3, 1959
The stress and fidgets is maximum. Everybody wants to approach Fidel Castro as much as possible to interview him, getting pictures or shooting him from a near distance.
But it is virtually impossible.
The place is utterly overcrowded and nobody can move, with the exception of Fidel Castro — clad in his olive green military fatigues and cap — who is opened way by his personal Cuban bodyguards and some Argentinian policemen and security members, though they manage to do it in a very slow way.
Light conditions are very bad. Everybody is pushing and doing their best to get the picture of the Cuban Revolution leader or a few words by him.
A cinema camera operator in the background handling a Bell & Howell 70-DR 16 mm movie camera is being helped by an assistant who is lifting up a very big and powerful illuminating lamp, while two photographers with large magnesium flashes (the biggest one held high vertically just in front of the visible movie camera, and the other one seemingly belonging to a Graflex Speed Graphic 4 x 5 is being kept horizontally to prevent it from being broken by the huddled people) endeavour to make pictures while being cramped and barely being able to stretch their arms, and simultaneously, a second cameraman using an Arriflex 35 II movie camera with 400 ft film magazine is also crammed, which makes the context even more cumbersome.
They all know that Castro is going to lodge at the Alvear Palace Hotel of La Recoleta neighbourhood, where thousands of people are already waiting for him, and then he will visit Argentinian President Arturo Frondizi at Los Olivos Residence with even greater security measures, so this will be highly probably the only chance to capture Fidel Castro with their photographic or movie cameras.
There isn´t space to do anything whatsoever, and many people interfere in the trajectory of any possible photograph.
The aforementioned man in the background is making a strenuous effort raising his spring driven 16 mm Bell & Howell 70-DR movie camera (whose weight is around 2 kg) with three lenses and holding it with one hand to shoot Fidel any way, filming over the heads.
Everybody is sweating buckets.
In the meantime, an Austrian woman who had to flee from Vienna in 1938 with her parents and emigrate to Argentina is trying to get at least one picture of Fidel Castro.
She is Lisl Steiner, thirty-two years old at the moment, and has become a professional photographer. This is one of her first and most difficult assignments, working as a photojournalist for the Brazilian illustrated magazine O Cruzeiro Internacional, then one of the most important in the world.
She has approached as much as possible towards the left side of Fidel Castro, with a perpendicular trajectory.
There´s a climax of nerviousness. The Cuban guerrilla fighters making up Castro´s personal guard, some members of Argentinian security and two Argentinian policemen go on bearing the brunt of the pressure. Pushes and pokes are being frequent, because there are fears of an assassination attempt of Fidel Castro by Batista´s agents.
Lisl Steiner is in the worst possible place to advance, since the two Argentinian policemen (one on the middle far left of the image and the other one on the lower far right) are working coordinated trying to prevent anybody from crossing between them towards Fidel Castro, while one of Castro´s Cuban guerrilla fighters of his personal guard located next to the policeman on the right, is grabbing the man just in front of him, striving after avoiding that he gets nearer Fidel Castro.
Kodak-Tri-X Pan 400 black and white film from 1959 featuring 20 exposures. Because of its remarkable acutance, exceedingly wide tonal range, very fast ASA 400 speed for the time and easiness to be pushed to ASA 800 with very good results, it became the common choice per excellence of many professional photojournalists throughout decades since its launching into market as a 35 mm b & w emulsion in 1954.
Lisl Steiner realizes that she must shoot as soon as possible, because chances are that she will have only one photograph of this moment, so she presses the shutter release button of her Leica M2 rangefinder camera loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film featuring 20 exposures and coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/3.5 lens and gets the picture, creating a defining image from a historical viewpoint, faithfully depicting the very special atmosphere and jittery hubbub of those moments.
© Lisl Steiner
Picture made by Lisl Steiner on May 2, 1959. It is an exceedingly interesting double exposure in whose center can be seen Fidel Castro standing beside his uncle Gonzalo Castro Argil — brother of his father Angel María Bautista Castro Argil — just after having had lunch inside the house located at the Street Cabello 3589 where the 79 year old man has lived in Buenos Aires since 1913.
The day before, Fidel Castro had promised to his uncle Gonzalo Castro to go to have lunch at his home, on the condition of being offered a caldo gallego.
The Cuban revolutionary leader kept his word and went to this house located in the Palermo neighbourhood of the Argentinian capital to have lunch on Saturday May 2, 1959, after delivering his speech at the modern building of the Secretary of Commerce where he explained his planning of economical development for Latin America, focused on a financial boost of 30,000 million dollars in a ten years period.
Lisl Steiner had previously taken a picture of people standing outside of this house, and and subsequently went into it to cover the meeting of Fidel Castro with his uncle, but after taking out the Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white 35 mm film from her Leica rangefinder camera, she inadvertently put it inside it back again, so a double exposure happened and in the image there are people from the previous picture she got in front of the house and other people who had just had lunch inside Gonzalo Castro´s home.
This is a really fascinating picture, and though it was created unintentionally, exposing the same 35 mm film roll twice in this frame, I do believe that this image features kabbalistic elements, something which would also happen four years later in another extraordinary image made by Lisl Steiner the day of John Fitzgerald Kennedy´s death on November 22, 1963, and in which appear 22 persons.
José Manuel Serrano Esparza