Blowup

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

She referred to the Smirnoff lawsuit. "I ask you: If while living Korda said -- and he was proud of it -- that his work related to the Cuban Revolution belonged to the Cuban government, how is a document that would annul his own way of thinking and acting possible? ... Diana's pretensions do not concur with the message that Korda, while alive, transmitted with his words and even more so with his actions," she submitted, alleging that the heiress is seeking to profit from Korda's work. "My children have no personal interest in making money from the photographic work of their father. They want it to be considered public work for the benefit of our society. They only want their children, my grandchildren, to know who their grandfather was and that his work belongs to the world. As he himself desired."

A half-year later Guffanti is no less incredulous. "We lived together 22 years," she says of her relationship with Korda. "That's a considerable time to live with another person. So I knew him. I can't believe that he would have signed that will consciously."

Dante, now staying on Miami Beach with sister Alejandra, reasons that the only way his father would have named Diana sole heiress is if he were crazy or drunk; he adds that Korda was an alcoholic. "The will is really an insult to the family," he declares. His intention in challenging the document, he adds, is to bring to light "the promise that he made during his life to all of his children, saying that his inheritance was equally for all his children."

A Korda moment in 1976 Havana (at top) with Fidel Alberto, Diana, Monica, baby Alejandra, Norka junior, and Dante; another in 2000 (above) with Diana, Norka, and Alejandra
photos Courtesy Alejandra Diaz
A Korda moment in 1976 Havana (at top) with Fidel Alberto, Diana, Monica, baby Alejandra, Norka junior, and Dante; another in 2000 (above) with Diana, Norka, and Alejandra

To help his half-brother Dante's legal argument, Fidel Alberto sent him a letter signed by his Oslo-based lawyer. "We hereby confirm," the letter states, "that Alberto Korda ... has assigned all his copyrights and rights ... to our client, including the world famous photo of Ernesto Guevara." Those rights include "all of the photos which have been nationalized by the Cuban authorities," the letter notes. "Thus today Fidel Korda has an exclusive right to pursue and demand payment for any infringement of rights [pertaining] to his father's photos."

Diana disagrees. "The will was completed two years before the death of Mr. Korda and he was precisely thinking about the future and about the destination of his possessions and rights," states a court brief filed by her lawyer. "There is no contradiction if the government places the work of Korda in the category of Cultural Heritage and it is also awarded to the heiress." Her lawyer also rejected Dante's claim to an old Russian-made Lada coupe registered in Korda's name and to Korda's apartment.

Diana herself declined to comment for this article. "Forgive me, but I don't want to make any kind of statement at this time," she said when telephoned at her home in Havana's upscale Vedado section. (An interview request left at Culture Minister Abel Prieto's office went unanswered.)

Alejandra is bitter about the situation. Last year in the Design District she opened Korda Collection, a furniture store-art gallery whose walls feature some of her father's early photographs of Norka and other models. She had hoped to one day mount an exhibition of her father's revolution photos. "I don't have rights to his photographs nor the right to say that I'm his daughter," she snaps, adding facetiously, "because I was an accidentally made daughter. But what do I care? I don't want anything there anymore. House, car, photos, copyright, negatives -- let them take it all.

"Ultimately I don't want to be a resident of Cuba anymore," she continues. "Now I want to be an American citizen. Because consider what happened. My father died, and I don't have rights to his work or even a piece of land next to his apartment."


Fidel Alberto Korda is more than eager to finish preserving his father's photographs, a laborious digitalization job he started with his father in Havana in 1996. Almost 98 percent of his father's archive of revolution-related photos taken from 1959 to 1968 have never been published. "There are thousands of negatives, unknown to the public," Fidel Alberto reveals.

The first phase of preservation culminated in an exhibition at the Henie Onstad Museum in Oslo in September 1999. Alongside the famous photographer and his son, Fidel Alberto's mother Norka Mendez and his sister Norka Diaz attended the opening. Fidel Alberto reports that 26,000 visitors attended the seven-week show.

After the Oslo exhibition, Korda pressed his son to speed up the digitalization work. "Because as he pointed out, everybody is getting old, and he did not feel very well," Fidel Alberto remembers. "We met very often and also talked on the phone from different places in the world, where he could talk openly with me. He wanted me to publish [the unpublished photos] with the same quality as in my exhibition and catalogue in Oslo and as soon as possible. He understood that this is a time-consuming and very expensive enterprise, which requires a high level of technical skill, new technology, and a knowledge and respect of his personal way of visualizing his pictures."

Korda, he said, also wanted his work protected from the uncertainties of a post-Castro government. "It was very important for my father to secure my rights over his works, internationally and in Cuba," Fidel Alberto insists. "The reason for this, he told me, is that there will be big changes in Cuba. There is a big risk that the archive could physically disappear, just like the huge archive of his work of my mother did." Fidel Alberto says his father's negatives are currently housed in the Archive of Historical Affairs of the Revolution, which is controlled by the Council of State.

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