In The Struggle
by Laurence Salzmann
Laurence Salzmann usually photographs male environments, male worlds. One of his previous works is a reportage about a public bathhouse in Romania, that is for men only. The images of the present text are from a reportage of a wrestling school in Santiago de Cuba.
The Romanian bathhouse was the only one of its kind remaining in the whole town and perhaps the whole country. Its dingy walls, stools and floors announced that it would close its doors shortly. Also, the sight of that many Jewish men crammed into a small bathroom, seemingly preparing themselves for disaster and tragedy, inevitably reminded us of a concentration camp instead of a bathhouse.
The images of “The Wrestle” take place in what seems to be an abandoned industrial building. Its cracked and unpolished floors, scattered bricks, hanging metal structures -used for pull-ups by the boys- remind us of a difficult, rugged world, full of frictions. Laurence Salzmann, has managed to document the warfare training of a tribe of very young men in Santiago de Cuba. They are getting ready for a combat, but this combat is a sport.
The Cuban wrestling team has been quite successful over the last few years, both in freestyle and Greco-Roman style, totally dominating the sport in the last Pan American Games, held at the Dominican Republic, defeating the Americans who were the previous champions.
As in other socialist regimes, sport is a top priority of the Cuban state. The government has opened many sport schools. Sport is ideal for a government that is keen to demonstrate its achievements, especially socialist regimes, which are obsessed with proving they are the most just form of government. It’s no coincidence that boxing and wrestling have been favored over the years. Sport competitions have become a metaphor of the wars between countries, a pantomime of a very cold war.
In Spanish the word lucha means both wrestle and struggle. Wrestling is a metaphor of the struggle for surviving on a daily basis. Regular people have to wrestle their own problems with cunning and valor. Despair, as in wrestling means defeat.
The young men and children photographed in a the wrestling school of Santiago de Cuba live and breathe wrestling, struggling. Salzmann has put the same interest he put on the Romanian Jewish men of the bathhouse, men of all ages gathered for a cleansing rite. Laurence Salzmann has a wrestle of his own: Investigating human behavior in a group, the tribal rites. Just like the young people he has portrayed, he is also wrestling.
Antonio José Ponte
Havana, August 2001