Staged Photos / Iván García

It all started at age 14 when his father gave him an old Russian camera with a fixed 35 mm lens. Before he got passionate about photography, Roldán, 42, was the guy in the neighborhood who played baseball in the mornings and went up to the roof in the evenings, to quietly watch some naked neighbor.

He took photography seriously. He dreamed that he would be like Robert Capa, Richard Avedon, the Catalan Joan Fontcuberta, or at least surpass the Cuban Alberto Korda. Roldán always carried his camera and loads of lenses.

He worked part-time for a travel agency. He took photos for unofficial foreign journalists passing through the island. He refused to work on a boring and uncreative local newspaper.

His pictures didn’t please the censors and bosses of the official press. They were good and even artistic, but they starkly showed the dirty, ugly face of Havana.

Beggars and prostitutes. Drunk and gays. Sad, fat old types who spend time sitting on wooden stools at the entrance to dilapidated housing.

He could never exhibit in galleries and museums. He was never praised or rewarded. He was not a complacent photographer. But upon the death of his parents, who always supported him, he was forced to make a living. He stopped doing underground art and devoted himself to commercial photography. A friend with enough money and a gift for business set him up in a studio with a showy, brightly-colored decor.

Roldán began to take photos of girls who turned 15. He was successful. Now he earns a lot of money. A photo album can cost more than 100 Cuban convertible pesos (120 dollars). Today he is one of the photographers who is most requested by the parents of quinceañeras.

Roldán did not achieve his dream of being like Capa, Avedon, Fontcuberta or Korda. But he lives well. He was able to furnish his apartment, and he has an old Dodge that looks like a jewel. Although he continues making quality photos, he feels that he has prostituted his profession with these staged images.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 13 2011