In the introduction to photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni's 1990 book, Cuba mi Amor, a stunning portfolio of photos that captures the color and passion of that beautiful island, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Màrquez writes, "This Italian with the face of a Caribbean rhumba dancer has been able to penetrate the deepest reality of present-day Cuba."
In this issue of SI, Gorgoni's photographs penetrate the reality of Cuban sports (page 60) and provide an inside look at a country in love with athletes and athletics. Says SI's director of photography, Karen Mullarkey, "The reason I sent Gorgoni to Cuba is his great love and appreciation for the Cuban people. He's not tied up in politics; he's not judgmental. When he photographs Cuba, there's a spirit that he understands, intuitively, because he has that spirit himself."
Though he says he stopped counting his visits to Cuba after his 30th trip, Gorgoni estimates that he has been there at least 50 times. As a result, he knows the country intimately. He also has photographed Fidel Castro on many occasions. In 1985, after returning to Italy from an assignment in Cuba, Gorgoni sent Castro a cacciocavallo, a cheese from the mountains near his hometown in the Abruzzi, in central Italy. A few months later, Gorgoni found himself standing near Castro at a reception in Havana for United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pèrez de Cuèllar. "Castro leaned over and said, 'Italiano, that cheese was great. We're going to make it in Cuba.' I said, 'No, that's impossible, you can't make cheese like that in Cuba.' Everybody was looking at us, and there was total silence. I thought, I have just said no to Fidel—what do I do now? So I said, 'Look, it's like in Italy, if we suddenly decided we want to make a good Havana cigar.' Fidel laughed and everything was fine."
Castro is hardly Gorgoni's only celebrity subject. He shot Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, Yasir Arafat in Beirut, Pope John Paul II on a plane to New York ("I showed the Pope a cover picture I took for The New York Times Magazine" says Gorgoni. "He said, 'That's a very nice photo. You make me look so tough' ") and artists Georgia O'Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in their studios. Gorgoni is not the only person taking photos in Cuba. The picture of Gorgoni and García Màrquez in the back of Cuba mi Amor was snapped by none other than Fidel Castro.