Cuban curator Virginia Alberdi writes about Cuban photographer Korda on the 20th anniversary of his death
Twenty years separate us from the death of Alberto Korda; two decades in which the legend of the Cuban photographer, passed away on May 25, 2001 during a stay in Paris, has continued to grow as one of the undisputed icons in the history of art of the 20th century.
There is no doubt that his planetary fame is related to an image that continues to go around the world: the face of Commander Ernesto Che Guevara captured on March 5, 1960 when people were saying goodbye to the victims of the sabotage of the ship, ‘La Coubre’. The firm, serene air of Che’s gaze, framed by the beret with the insignia of the military rank, transcended the circumstance due to its steely symbolism and the futuristic charge of the gesture. So much so that in many places the Che Guevara people recognise, whoever they are, is that of Korda.
But Korda’s art is also known to extend into a much broader work. Along with Osvaldo and Roberto Salas, Raúl Corrales, Liborio Noval, Ernesto Fernández, Pepe Agraz, Jorge Oller, Perfecto Romero and his partner Luis Korda, he is an essential link in the fabric of epic photography of the Revolution.
As in the times of the defence of the Spanish Republic Robert Capa (jointly signed by Endre Erno Friedman and Gerda Taro) reflected the most critical moments of the fascist aggression, Korda gave himself body and soul to the record of the traces of the radical change of Cuban life since 1959.
“Korda” – recalls the Cuban art critic Nelson Herrera Ysla – “stopped at nothing to be there, in the eye of the hurricane, no matter if it was a massive crowd of Cubans, the frozen landscape around Moscow, or the crazy streets of New York. (…) He does not rest photographing soldiers of the Rebel Army, the first militiamen and militia, teenage literacy teachers from the gigantic educational campaign, parades and marches, moments of tense stillness, and illustrious visitors who came to Cuba to see first-hand like Jean Paul Sartre or Pablo Neruda”.
It was a spectacular qualitative leap that Korda achieved with photography: from photojournalism to testimony, and from testimony to high-flying aesthetic coding. It would be enough to observe a work like ‘Don Quixote on the lamppost’ or any of the portraits of Fidel, magnetized by the personality of the revolutionary leader, to assess the mastery of his artistic exercise.
Before and after there were other Kordas. There are his early forays into photography of fashion – comparable with a Richard Avedon – or into the underwater world.
Whatever the subject, the artist knew that capturing a snapshot is not the work of chance, but of talent and sensitivity.
BUY ‘Cuba by Korda’ a book of Korda’s photographs available here
SIMPLY KORDA (2011, Dir. Roberto Chile, Cuba, 19mins) Documentary featuring an interview with the Cuban photographer Alberto Korda about how he came to be a photographer of the revolution as it happened and to take the most famous photograph of Che Guevara. Watch in 2 parts here (selecting English subtitles) on Youtube