¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

Newly digitized are photographs documenting the career of the Cuban-born singer Rolando Laserie. Known as “El Guapo de la Canción” and “El Guapachoso” (the Ebullient One), Laserie performed with various musical groups including Benny Moré’s Banda Gigante and recorded many popular albums of boleros, guarachas, and other musical genres. Among his best known songs are “Sabor a Mi” and “Amalia Batista.” He was also famous for the interjection “¡de película!” (“out of a movie!”). Laserie and his wife Gisela went into exile in 1960, settling in Miami, Florida in the 1970s.

The 394 digitized photographs are viewable here. What follows is an account of working with the digitization process by Ana Rodriguez, our metadata assistant.

¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

by Ana Rodríguez, CHC Metadata Assistant

Around the beginning of February I started working with the Rolando Laserie Papers, creating descriptive records (known in the library world as metadata) as part of the process of digitization. My job was to provide item-level description, which means that I had to create records for each and every item being scanned in the most detailed way possible. This includes not only technical or administrative information about the object being scanned (like information about how the object was scanned, the object’s genre, and its dimension), but also descriptive information about what the object is about, what it depicts, what subject headings it could be associated with, and so forth.

Part of the challenge with digitizing this collection was that its finding aid only describes the contents to the folder level; that is, you could only find out brief information about the contents of a certain folder overall, but not detailed information about each and every item within that folder. For instance, the papers include a folder titled “Panamá, n.d., 1957-1959” which is part of a series “Photographs: Outside Cuba, [1950]-[1990].” The series and folder titles give us a lead as to the contents of this particular folder, but it does not tell us that it contains specifically a photograph of Rolando Laserie signing a contract in Panama on December 1957. This means that for me to do my job, I have to do a bit of detective work, so that each item being digitized is described in such a way that will help people find it in our digital library.

In providing descriptive metadata lies the real challenge. Take the case of properly identifying and describing photographs. Sometimes, there are photographs with a caption or other description on the back of the photograph, or verso, which details exactly what is being depicted, who the people in the photograph are, and when it was taken. But other times, you come across a photograph where next to no context is given at all. There is a photograph, say, of Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men who appear to be barbecuing, and the verso bears no information other than that it was taken in Panama in 1958. Who are the two unidentified men? What was the occasion? Is this a photograph of Laserie enjoying a day off with several friends from Panama, or is Laserie celebrating with fellow musicians with whom he is collaborating? Without further evidence, these are speculations and so I could not say for sure. For this reason, the metadata could not say more than just “Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men.”

This can be particularly frustrating when you have a definite clue about what the photograph might be depicting, but nevertheless cannot verify it. Take this photograph of Rolando Laserie on a TV show with several unidentified people. Although there is text on the verso, it gives no concrete information about the TV show itself. The seal on the front reads “XHTV-4.” When I sought out more information on this acronym, I discovered that it is a Mexican TV station also known as Canal de la Ciudad (The City’s Channel), owned by the Mexican multimedia conglomerate Televisa. Since the photo was found in a folder titled “Mexico,” it made sense that this was a photograph taken on the set of a TV show featured on this channel. I searched further to see if Televisa made available anywhere an archive of old programs, but I could not find anything. I therefore had to leave it as it is now, without any information about the show itself. Again, we try to be as descriptive as possible, but we can only provide information that is absolute verifiable.

This is where we can use your help. Do you think you might know people that are being depicted in these photographs or what TV shows the photographs are from, or can provide context in any other way? Please take a moment to browse through these newly digitized images from the Rolando Laserie collection. There are somewhere between 30 and 50 photographs for which we were unable to provide fully detailed metadata. With your help, we can create more accurate and useful records to help others discover these images for many years to come. Leave a comment here or email me directly at a.rodriguez33@miami.edu.