Josefina Tarafa, the unknown lens of a Cuban exile in Miami
The photographer portrayed how the Spanish language colonized every poster and advertisement during the 1970s, as more Cubans settled in the city and merged with its landscape and people.
She was a Vivian Maier of her time, taking snapshots of the city and its people without ever being displayed. Although Josefina Tarafa, unlike the nanny, did reveal them. The curators do not find the negatives.
Nearly 40 years after the death of the Cuban photographer who bore witness to the "Cubanization" of Miami in the 1970s, an exhibition opened last week at Miami-Dade University's Cuban Legacy Gallery in the Freedom Tower, paying tribute to the least known lens of exile as it invites us to travel into the past of one of the country's most diverse and Latino cities.
Under the name Remaking Miami: Josefina Tarafa's Photographs of the 1970s, the exhibition is, in the words of its curator, José Antonio Navarrete, "a whole essay on transculturation" in 30 snapshots.
In them, you can find everything from the typical Cuban dish of oxtail on white rice and beans — then costing only $29 — to the Hispanic names of funeral homes and other businesses.
"She connects urban anthropology with visual anthropology. She is dedicated to exploring how a contemporary migration redefines a space," Navarrete told EFE. As a specialist in Latin American photography from the 1920s to the 1960s, he had been wanting to give visibility to the work of "a very particular woman with a cosmopolitan vision.
The name of Tarafa, who was part of a wealthy family that left Cuba in the 1960s, is not on everyone's lips according to the curator, because of her own aversion from the spotlight.
"Curiously, this work in Miami was done on different trips because he lived in Europe. She fell ill at the end of the 70s in London, came to Miami, where she spent the last stage of her life and where she died, but her exile was in Europe," he said.
In addition to being a photographer, Josefina Tarafa was also a writer, philanthropist, and illustrated much of the work of Cuban ethnologist Lydia Cabrera, author of El Monte, the ABC of Cuban folklore.
Tired of looking for the negatives of Tarafa's images, which were nowhere to be seen, Navarrete selected 30 from 150 photographs and reproduced them in a larger format — they were originally the size of a postcard.
The Cuban woman took the black-and-white images with a Japanese camera that the curator discovered, reflected in the window of one of the photos. All of them, without exception, show Josefina Tarafa's good eye and spatial management, as well as places of popular culture, such as cafés and restaurants, which constitute the Miami of another time, whose echoes are still present.
"Her work is so contemporary that it opens paths, helps us understand the processes of transculturation in the 1970s," the Cuban concluded.
Remaking Miami can be visited until February 2021. Do you dare to walk the streets of the city by going backward?