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Jacinto de la Cotera: pioneer of photography in Cienfuegos

In 1839, to twenty years of being founded the colony Fernandina de Jagua, it was patented in Europe one of the inventions that revolutionized 19th: photography. Very impressed should had felt those who were photographed when seeing their images in different supports, which presented the photographers like a luck of magicians, outpost men. The best suits, regal positions, accessories that reinforced the identity of the models, the constant appearance of new techniques and the ample variety of supplies, clarified this business in that century. 

It was not different in Cienfuegos, whose mighty economic development based on the sugar industry and the dynamic commerce had like platform a bay connected with different points from Europe and the United States. It not only received merchandise, but also a strong load of technological and cultural advances of that time. This way −Cienfuegos and with title of villa from 1829− was revealed like an interesting place for foreigners, who simultaneously enrich its social composition, maintained it updated of the last world-wide new features.  

Of equal way photography, with its fast form to reproduce the individual or collective image, made presence and became popular in the villa. Photographers like Jacinto de la Cotera y Consejero, Carrillo, Rovinson and Storer, Efesio de la Cotera, Emilio Alvarez, Francisco Govela, Ines Roig, Jose Carbonell, Mariano González Blanco, Salaya and Roig or the North Americans Chute & Brooks or Gurney O´Tero & Smith, passing by the city, are sample of it. 

It is from Jacinto de la Cotera y Consejero, of whom until the moment, have been the first references of a photographic work in the locality. Thus, he becomes an indispensable character when it is wanted to begin the history of the photography in Cienfuegos. 

He was born in Lebeña, Spanish province of Santander, on September 11th, 1832. It was baptized with the name of Jacinto Gabriel de la Cotera y Concejero[ 1]. He came came to this city when he was very young and established a photography business. He occupied a good social position[ 2]. The first review of his services appeared in 1858: “photographer to the oil, miniaturist, photography, ambrotypo and other modern procedures, once again he offers to his friends and fetchings in its previous one dwelled street of Hourruitiner in front of the Palm. In order to correspond to the desire of several people, he had brought a pretty spurted of pins and relicaries of gold of the best ones than are in the capital. He also portraid corpses, and made copies from all class of pictures or pictures”[ 3]. 

With this note can be established since when was in Cienfuegos the young painter and photographer, at that time with twenty-five years of age. Unfortunately, until today images made in that have not been identified first gallery.  In 1861 already existed in the villa “two retratists to the oil and daguerreotype”[ 4], and he would not be erroneous to affirm that one of them was Cotera, because three years ago he worked in this turn. “Photographic Gallery of Jacinto de la Cotera, Santa Elena number 27. Pictures to the oil, photograph, ambrotype and new procedure with real privileges granted by SS. Mm. in Madrid on November 14th 1860. Again reformed this gallery counting on the best apparatuses in addition to those acquired that had Mr. Rovinson and Storer, count on the cooperation of Mr. Carrillo, photographer that had these Mr. and a complete one spurted of effects of all classes. Also all the negatives have been acquired that Mr. Rovinson and Storer have done, and the dozen will remove to the repetitions to dozen. Photography effects are sold.” 

Thus reflected the newspaper El Fomento, in January of 1865, the works that Cotera made, now in the new address of Santa Elena 27. In addition, the cooperation of the stranger had been given to photographer Carrillo, thus were like minimum two, the workers of this new establishment. Of interest in addition that not only made photographies, because in their factory also photography effects could be acquired, a sample of the multifacetic of his business. 

On July 15th that year, the newspaper El Telégrafo promoted the services of a new photographic cabinet, a branch of Gurney O´Tero & Smith de New York in Cienfuegos. Established “in the street Santa Elena corner to the one of Santa Isabel, n.O 36, one more a block underneath the Gallery of D. Jacinto Cotera.” It had to tease to Cotera, because the installation of the North Americans was to single a block of his. 

Nevertheless, the fact that its establishment was the datum point for the new photographic cabinet, demonstrates how recognized were the works of Cotera. And if we took “one more a block literally down” and see the slope of the street Santa Elena from Of Clouet towards San Luis, the establishment of Cotera in the neighborhoods of the corner of Santa Elena and Clouet could be located, to three blocks of the then Square of Arms. 

On the other hand, the newspaper El Telégrafo also slogan in another one of its pages that the photographer - Cotera- was professor in the School of Columbus, although it does not specify the matter that distributed the peninsular one. It is no wonder outside drawing, by compatible questions to its profession; that is, that to the time that took care of its business, also gave classes, as a sample of his versatility. 

Three years later, in 1868, is in the newspaper El Fomento another announcement on the task of Cotera: “ Newness in Photography! Associated to Mr. Storer whose perfection in the works is already well well-known in this population, we can offer from this date the beautiful pictures on porcelain, that to the greater duration than no other is more beautiful by its transparency and refinement. Also we counted on a modern one and varied provided of marks and other articles of art and like before, modern pictures to the oil, watercolor and other procedures will become; copies of all classes and views of all sizes. Working hours from 8 to 3 of afternoon”. This association with Storer is interesting, one of the members of the Society Robinson and Storer to whom it had bought apparatuses for his work. In addition, they emphasize its incursions in the pictures on porcelain and the views of all the sizes. 

In 1871 appears in the Diario de Cienfuegos the reference, for the first time, to the accomplishment of “tintypes”, a little delayed arrival to the city, because the invention of the metallic support data of 1853. In that same year, Jacinto de la Cotera appeared like one of the greater contributors to the tax on the territorial property of Cienfuegos, example of the good march of the business. 

Another change of location of the photographic gallery we found in 1873. The press refers: “Photographic Gallery of Jacinto de la Cotera, San Carlos 80, between the Branch of the Spanish Bank and fur shop of of Mr. Quirós and Bellas. Photographies of all classes and sizes, cards and porcelains, iluminations and oil paintings, pictures, boxes and passe-partout, seen great and stereoscopic. Wishing to mount an establishment that corresponded to the advances of the art and increase of the population, I have not omitted average as much in the part of factory like in its accessories and when offering to me in the new premises to my friendships and to the public in general, I will treat as always, to correspond to the protection who I have received. Copies from all class of pictures, views of buildings and property will remove, for which it counts on great assorted machines and effects. Hour of work from ten in the morning to five of afternoon. ”[ 5] 

The transferred of Santa Elena 27 to San Carlos 80 responds to one better location in the commercial layout of the villa. Of this moment photographies are conserved whose rigid support was made for the gallery of Santa Elena 27; nevertheless, to take advantage of the material, the photographer replaced the old direction with a small paper that contained the new location. The “iluminations” are included in their services, from which some units have arrived at our days and the stereoscopic images. He is appreciable just a short time that passed from the opening of this establishment in the street San Carlos and of the technological update of he himself. His schedule had changed, perhaps by other commitments of work, although it maintained the same amount of hours on watch. To emphasize the accomplishment of photos of urban and rustic landscapes, could be complicated, by the control of the light and the movement of the people in the streets. 

In 1875 was of great important for Jacinto, because he was elect councilman of City council[ 6], position that reinforced its position in the local society. Nevertheless, the policy did not separate it from the photography and again it made Cotera new changes in the location of his establishment. 

Therefore reflected the Commercial Directory of the Island of Cuba of 1883-1884: “Photographic Gallery of Jacinto Cotera in San Carlos 37, in front of the flank of the Church. In this old establishment most modern applications with the camera become all class of pictures in photography according to the procedures, color and views of all classes and sizes. Pictures to the oil, pie and all class of iluminaciones, also counting on a great assortment of pictures, everything to equitable prices”. In addition to the text, from great interest the illustration is from the building that accompanies it. 

Of two stories, the neoclassic construction was almost located in the corner of San Carlos and Santa Isabel, to few passages of the Square of Arms. The client could appreciate in the show window the supplies from the factory to which she acceded by ample doors and in the high plant an in excess balcony was an excellent space to appreciate the movement of the zone. A great text in the front of the building identified the business “GALLERY DE J. COTERA” and in the flank of the second floor another one said: PHOTOGRAPHIC GALLERY OF JACINTO COTERA. This is the last one of the four identified galleries of Cotera, in the former villa of Cienfuegos. When studying the images that are preserved of Santa Elena 27, San 80 Carlos and San Carlos 37, can be observed the reiteration of he himself drop curtain of bottom and furniture in the different premises. 

In 1885, the photographer was elect Fourth Lieutenant Mayor of the City council, position that two years later was ratified to him. Cotera, first of that last name in Cienfuegos[ 7], married with Mrs. Matilde Cabrera Ducondray and of this marriage were born six named children: Maria Josefa, Felix, Enrique, Matilde, Felipe, Alfonso, Juan Pedro and Jose. It is important to indicate the existence in Cienfuegos of another photographer in 19th century of equal last name and origin: Efesio de la Cotera, nephew and apparently also disciple of Jacinto. 

On March 4th 1893[ 8], passed away in the Pearl of the South, Jacinto de la Cotera at the age of sixty years. Painter, photographer, teacher and politician, man who moved successfully in the cienfueguera life, drawing for the competition of other galleries. He stayed in the business of the painting and the photography by more than twenty-five years. 

Sample of the photographic works made by this inhabitant from Santander, in the formats letter of visits and cabinet the Provincial Museum and Library of Cienfuegos like legacies of an outpost man are conserved in, a magician luck who stopped in sensible surfaces, the cienfueguera life of 19th century.  

David Liestter Martinez Ramos.

Researcher at the Office of the Historian of the city of Cienfuegos.


[1] Libro de bautisos del año 1832 de la Iglesia Parroquial de Lebeña, folio 148v y 149.


[2] Luis Bustamante y Fernandez: Diccionario Biográfico de Cienfuegos. Imp. R. Bustamante. Cienfuegos 1931. p. 54.


[3] Hoja Económica, jueves 21 de octubre de 1858.


[4] Enrique Edo y Llop: Historia de Cienfuegos y su Jurisdicción. Imprenta ÚCAR, GARCÍA y CÍA. La Habana, 1943. p. 216.


[5] Diario de Cienfuegos. Friday 10 of October of 1873.


[6] Bustamante and Fernandez. p 54.


[7] Bustamante y Fernandez, p 54.


[8] Registry of the Property of the East. Tomo 2, Folio 134v, Finca 77.


Translated by: Osmany Ortiz González (Azurina)

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