Longform

Blowup

Page 5 of 6

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 He wanted me to publish [the unpublished photos] with the same quality as in my exhibition and catalogue in Oslo and as soon as possible.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.

Fidel Alberto notes that for several years, at his father's request, he has pursued financial support for the preservation project from photography firms such as Leica AG. He uses his own computers to do the work. "This is done by means of digitalizing the original negatives and then retouching every negative to perfection," he explains. Reproduction of negatives is important so that originals need not be handled and thus made to deteriorate in the making of prints.

Dante, however, believes that most of his father's unpublished photos of the revolution aren't worth much. "My father was a very lucky photographer, not a good photographer." He thinks a few have artistic value, such as "Quixote of the Lamppost" (a farmer perched on top of a lamppost above a large crowd); "Fidel in Washington" (Castro in fatigues looking up at the Lincoln Memorial); and "Heroic Guerrilla."

Dante believes the Castro regime still makes money off his father's work but can't state precisely how much. "It's a lot of money, though," he assures. "The Cuban government doesn't ask permission and it doesn't pay." Moreover no one is sure exactly to whom Korda may have sold reprint rights outside of Cuba. Despite the Smirnoff case, use of Korda's photographs already in the public domain is free, Dante observes. "The people who are using Korda's work are going to continue using it. They aren't ever going to pay our family for it."

Whether Diana can or wants to cash in on reproductions of her father's work remains to be seen. But last week she was confirmed as the sole heiress of her father's negatives, along with the Lada and the money for Korda's apartment. The judge presiding over the will dispute decided Dante's complaint lacked merit, thus precluding his lawyer from presenting evidence and witnesses. The ruling means the government must pay Diana monetary compensation for her father's apartment, which she cannot own under Cuban law because she already has a home.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen