There are few opportunities when you can graphically document part of a personality’s trajectory. Usually this can be done by reporters or individuals who are members of the same team. You have to know agendas, have accreditations and be technologically equipped to achieve some result. What has been said so far is “only” a minimum requirement that gives the photographer certain advantages and safety, the rest is a matter of personal skill. It is often the case that having the technical and formal means, the photograph is lost for any insignificant detail. Keep in mind that a snapshot is just a fleeting moment. Photographic art requires technical mastery, instinct, prediction, but above all, knowledge of the activity being covered and where it occurs.
Over the course of several years I had the joy – perhaps luck – of agreeing at certain times with Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, a public figure of relevance, but at the same time accessible as a person. They were really “moments” that emerged as fruits of varied circumstances. Sometimes because the activity had the size that justified its presence, sometimes because chance put me on the spot or because I assumed I should attend. The fact is, whenever I made an appearance, I struggled to get some snapshot of him. The figure was motivating and interesting from the visual aspect, especially knowing its trajectory.
What made my commitment almost always difficult was the kind of activity in which we agreed, mostly religious in nature, where an ethic is imposed, by an elementary sense of respect, and mobility is limited. Add to this that one of the most complex places to take photos is churches. Temples have ambient lighting that is not suitable for this type of work and the use of the flash is restricted to a minimum so that it does not cause unpleasant flashes in the midst of any liturgical act. If we add to that that because of the hierarchy it possessed it always occupied a place at the top of the presbytery or in the front row, the remoteness made the question more complicated.
Even with those conditions, I kind of managed to get an image, I stress that they weren’t always good. Today I intend to show only a few of them to readers, such as a poustum tribute and fair recognition of the figure who has just left us. They will be of certain moments that I consider transcendent, although by the height of the figure, he had the opportunity to be protagonist in acts of enormous historical significance where, of course, I could not even be present.
I will start on November 17, 2011. On that sunny afternoon, Cardinal Ortega walked the Ten of October Causeway. Behind him, the patron saint of all Cubans, our Lady of Charity of Copper, followed by a sea of people. As the Good Shepherd always at the head of his flock, he climbed the steep slope. Serene step, sweat on his forehead, calm look, perhaps meditative. Thus it reached the top of the historic hill of the church of Jesus of the Mount, having traveled on pilgrimage much of the territory of the diocese. It was a supreme effort for a man his age.
After the exhausting tour, without taking a break, he addressed for more than fifteen minutes a crowd who listened attentively and with deep respect. I don’t remember him resting for a second. He remained very attentive to all the details concerning the stay of Our Lady in the parish. He constantly gave instructions before the public was allowed into the temple. He then cared for how many people approached him to greet him or be blessed.
Another moment of the prelation that I was able to perpetuate was in the traditional procession of tribute to our Patron, who every year organizes the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity. This was september 8, 2015. I knew he was in it and I looked for him constantly until I found him. There he was, in the middle of Galiano Street, staff in hand, covered with his mitre and carrying his ornaments. He was surrounded by a crowd that was bent on marching with him in the heart of Centro Habana, something that for many could be complicated for more than one reason.
I will never forget September 20, 2015. That day the cardinal arrived with Pope Francis at the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Queen Street. After countless efforts to get in front of the main gate of the temple, after a long wait and right at the decisive moment, a huge sign stood before me that covered me with all visibility, I just started lifting the camera and squeezing the shutter as many times as I could, I had no time or room to observe the screen. The same thing happened at the exit of both personalities from the temple. Although the images obtained have no contest quality, for me they have great value, they are the testimony of having been on the site in that memorable moment. In more than one frame appeared Cardinal Ortega and His Holiness Francis.
I was always powerfully struck by the sympathy that awoke in people. When the cardinal’s figure appeared in public, everyone focused on him and wanted to make contact, even if it was brief. I remember it one day of Pentecost in the Cathedral. As he made the entrance through the door of the sacristy, those present applauded his arrival. When Mass ended, he was surrounded on the way out by many of those there, with them chatted pleasantly for a while.
One image that shocks me, among all the ones I could make and I keep in my file, is the one I took on May 22, 2016 at the door of the Cathedral. He awaited the arrival of Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, the day of his assumption as Archbishop of Havana.
The last time I had the privilege of speaking to the purpurado was the day of the release of his book Encounter, Dialogue and Agreement. Pope Francis, Cuba and the United States.1 It was in the Magna Classroom of the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center. He was kind enough to make me a dedication in the copy he had acquired and I will always keep.
In the early morning hours of July 26, we were seized by the expected news of his death. He was the second cardinal in the history of the Cuban Catholic Church.2 The intelligent man of high vocation of service who always fulfilled his duties as a parish priest, who knew how to overcome the pains felt in his own flesh in times of the Military Production Support Units (UMAP), that of an active role in the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting (ENEC) , that of an acute reconciling vision and mediating attitude, a builder of bridges amid high and deep tides differentiated between opposite shores. Without reservation, His Eminence was the great Cuban dialogue of our time.
Recalling these visual moments, all perpetuated by the lens of my camera over the course of several years and reviewing a large cluster of notes about Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino, it is easy to realize the deep emptiness left by his death. He has lost the Cuban Catholic Church to a guide, but his Magisterium has left profound guidelines for the way. With his physical disappearance Cuba saw those who have a well-deserved place in the seat of the important men of the homeland leave for eternity.
1 Card. Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino: Meeting, dialogue and agreement. El Papa Francisco, Cuba and The United States, Mexico, Ediciones Paulinas, S.A. de C.V., 1st. edition, 2017.
2 The first was the Card. Manuel Arteaga Betancourt (December 28, 1879 – March 20, 1963) was born in December 1945. See Pbro. Raúl del Valle: Cardinal Arteaga: Glows of Cuban Purple, Havana, Ramallo Print Polygraphic Workshops, November 1954.