The camera that I work with is a 1913 “One Minute Camera.” With it, you can have the photos ready immediately, because it has a little laboratory inside that reveals the images. First it makes a paper negative, and then that negative is photographed to make a positive, which is what the customer gets. I repair my camera myself, and I’ve even made two others that turned out very well, and are hard at work in Las Villas. I learned a lot about this trade by reading books that I bought in bookstores, and friends of mine helped me out.
My name is Abundio Alberto Pagés Ortiz. I was born in Marianao on July 11, 1947, but I grew up in Guanabacoa. Before I was a photographer, I was a bricklayer. I started out [in photography] in the year 1985. At the time, I was living on Industria Street, in a house where photographers kept their cameras. The woman who owned the house encouraged me, and that’s how I got involved in this. I learned about it for three months and then I began working in parks. At one point, I even had a laboratory in Guanabacoa, but most of the time I worked with my camera.
While most people who want me to take their photograph are foreigners, many Cubans also want to take home such an unusual memento. The orientales [people from eastern Cuba] who come to Havana to live or to visit like to have their pictures taken too, as proof that they were in the capital. I can even make photo montages with my camera.
I’ve always worked here, in the surroundings of the Capitolio. After 1990, things got hard, and we had to find a way to survive, because photography supplies were nowhere to be found. I went for six years without touching my camera, until supplies became available. I get my paper and chemicals through friends who live in Germany, in Europe.
I’m teaching my son the trade, not because I’m going to die –because I’m going to live forever– but to keep the tradition going. He works as my assistant, and he’s learning little by little.
I especially remember when we used to make ID photos. I had to move the camera’s plateholder to make the four copies required. That was between 1987 and 1990, when I used to spend summers shooting photos at Guanabo Beach. It was hard work –still is– because this little guy weighs a ton.
In 1987, box camera photographers like myself appeared in the documentary Quietos… Ya. They filmed us here, at the Capitolio. At the time, there were nine of us photographers; now only five of us are left.
I’ve even photographed celebrities from the United States, when they’ve been here for a visit and wanted me to take their photo. Right now I don’t remember their names, but they were famous singers.
This is a very nice trade, and the photo is enduring. But let me tell you, if tomorrow somebody were to give me a digital camera, I would happily take it. In any case, to be perfectly honest, I enjoy shooting my photos with my little box camera, which puts food on the table.