Blowup

You've seen the revolutionary photo, now here's the soap opera

To make matters worse, Fidel Alberto soon received a call from a Cuban immigration official reminding him he had to leave Cuba in a few days because his visa was expiring. He was unable to get an extension to stay and work on the preservation project he had discussed with President Castro. Alejandra returned to her Venetian Causeway condo. Dante, who lived in an apartment a block away from his father's Havana flat, soon filed a legal challenge against the will. "It is absurd and stupid to believe that my father would have left everything to Diana," he fumes.

Following Castro's suggestion at the funeral, Guffanti wrote to culture minister Prieto to inform him that she believed the will was fraudulent. But months passed and she never heard back.

The fate of Korda's photographs would be complicated by a nasty dispute over the rooftop bungalow Korda had built just above Monica's top-story apartment in Miramar. In Cuba it is against the law to possess more than one residence; housing officials maintained Korda constructed it illegally. Cuban authorities had charged Dante with assault after a confrontation with police trying to evict him and his family from that unit. Last month, at the urging of his mother and sister, Dante reluctantly left the island in order to avoid arrest.

Korda's Miami beachhead: The artist (at top) poses at the Design District art and furniture gallery daughter Alejandra (above) opened in 2001
Photo (at top) courtesy Alejandra Diaz (below) Ste
Korda's Miami beachhead: The artist (at top) poses at the Design District art and furniture gallery daughter Alejandra (above) opened in 2001
Dante didn't want to sell his dad's photos, but he did want his family  to have an apartment
Steve Satterwhite
Dante didn't want to sell his dad's photos, but he did want his family to have an apartment


Korda's death prompted one of his old, exiled Havana colleagues to lay out his thoughts on the photographer's somewhat overblown artistic legacy. In an article published in El Pais, the Madrid-based daily, writer Gabriel Cabrera Infante explains how "Heroic Guerrilla," like the revolution itself, started as one thing and turned into something else. What began as an obscure group photo became a cropped-down image used to glorify a rather grisly fiasco in Bolivia. "The guerrilla's failure as total triumph," Cabrera Infante put it.

Korda, too, wore different faces. Born Alberto Diaz Gutierrez in 1928, he attended the Havana Business Academy before dedicating himself to the camera. In 1953, as he prepared to open a studio across from the Hotel Capri, he adopted the last name of British film director Alexander Korda. He liked how the name resembled the word Kodak.

He often joked that one of his motives for getting into photography was to meet beautiful women. He spent his early career taking pictures for Cuba's fashion industry. But he also fancied himself an artist. He was a fan of Richard Avedon, who was then emerging as one of New York's most acclaimed portrait photographers.

Cabrera Infante recalls an afternoon in Havana when Korda showed him his work. "There was a little of everything, but most of all women, many women. Some dressed, some half dressed, and still others half nude." Cabrera Infante, who at the time wrote a film column in the Cuban magazine Carteles, resolved to begin publishing them. "The first pages of a silent eroticism in Carteles," he wrote, "were of a little sensual blonde woman." It was a naked Norka, Korda's second wife, whose body was partly hidden only by a large guitar. He titled it La BB Cubana (BB meant Brigitte Bardot). Pictures of other Havana models would follow in subsequent issues. "Those pages, those photos, were very popular among both sexes," Cabrera Infante notes. "I dedicated many pages to those women, girls really, in that year of grace 1958 and in much of historic 1959."

The revolution brought a different kind of photo op. Korda joined the staff of Lunes, the newspaper Revolución's weekly literary supplement, which Cabrera Infante edited. Korda and the writer covered Castro's April 1959 trip to the United Nations in New York. But just as high on Korda's agenda was a visit to Avedon's studio to show off his photos. "Korda returned discouraged and sad," Cabrera Infante relates. "Avedon had told him his photos were fine (almost as if to say “for a Cuban') but that he had a lot to learn, above all with regard to technique and Miss Sansen, Korda said. (Korda meant mis-en-scene)." That marked "the end of Korda's trip to instantaneous glory," the writer observes, and the two continued along with Castro's entourage on a tour through Latin America. Korda became one of Castro's official photographers.

Korda was 31 years old in March 1960 when an assignment took him to a funeral for dozens of people killed when an explosion ripped through a Belgian steamship docked in Havana's harbor. (Cuban authorities blamed it on counterrevolutionaries.) Among the mourners were philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and writer Simone de Beauvoir. According to Cabrera Infante, Korda wasn't covering the funeral per se but rather "following Sartre around everywhere." One of the pictures he came back with was a group photo of the revolution's first tier, including Fidel Castro, then-president Oswaldo Dorticos, Guevara, and various others. But it was not among the photos published alongside testimonials in a special issue of Lunes three days later.

A couple of years afterwards, Cabrera Infante had wanted to publish another of Korda's photos more to his and the photographer's liking. This one featured a naked woman holding a Czech machine gun in front of her torso. "One couldn't see her head, which must have been beautiful, nor her militant pubis: it only showed, like the remains of a Greek goddess in sepia, her erect breasts." But the government had folded the Lunes supplement, and the writer had to settle for displaying the picture in his apartment until he hightailed it to Belgium in 1965. (The Castro government also closed down Revolución that year to make way for Granma, the Cuban Communist Party's daily organ.)

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