Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

featured artist
Alberto Korda

Retrato del artista by Alberto       Korda

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Apr 14, 2001
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Alberto Korda in Los Angeles, CA.
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  You've been quite busy for some time now. What have you been up to?

Alberto Korda:  As you know, I had established an underwater photography department at the Science Academy in Havana. I did that for twelve years. I traveled the entire periphery of Cuba and I left behind a record of all the animal life that lives in Cuba up to a depth of 50 meters. That occupied a great deal of my time. Four or five years ago I retired and now I spend my time exhibiting my work around the world. Sometimes I’ll take on a job...only if I like it. In this same spirit I was happy to be named the official photographer for the Pope’s visit. I created two books, one in Italian and one in Spanish. Less that a year ago I was convinced by this Brazilian/Cuban collaborative to shoot some advertisement photos of lovers in Havana for their tobacco company Romeo y Julieta. I very much enjoyed this project. These are the things I do now.

LatinArt:  Do you still enjoy fashion photography?

Alberto Korda:  I love it.

LatinArt:  Do you look at American or European fashion magazines or those from other parts of the world?

Alberto Korda:  The American ones are very scarce in Cuba. Friends of mine often bring me "Elle" or other European magazines. Lately, I have not done any fashion photography. I started in fashion. When I was a young photographer I wanted to shoot pictures like Richard Avedon. I always loved the way he took photographs.

LatinArt:  That photograph of Che is so famous, what relationship did you have with him?

Alberto Korda:  Look, I worked with Che quite often when the newspaper sent me. But Che and I were never as close of friends as Fidel is with me today. Che used to be a photographer in Mexico when he was in exile. When he couldn’t get his medical degree in two years, he got his camera and he started to take pictures so he could sell them. Having been a photographer he was very suspicious of having his image in the newspaper in Cuba and all over the place. He was very much that way. But listen, there were many times that we got along very well and we got to know each other, but friends; we were never really friends.

LatinArt:  Let me ask you a question I asked you once before...what do you think of the younger artists working today in Cuba?
(José Manuel Fors in the next room yells out: "This time the truth!") (everyone laughs)

Alberto Korda:  Look, it’s true, not all artists are of the same quality...
(José Manuel Fors: "If you want I can leave so...") (laughter again)
There are some very good young artists. Among those you can include this young artist (signaling to Fors). The oldest ones that are left, Corrales who is 75 and I who will soon be 73, consider everyone else young. But there are many more in Cuba and they are very talented. I admire their photographs, partly because I am an admirer of photography. I love to buy books about it and I have a tremendous library full of them. I am friends with many of the younger generation of photographers and we enjoy talking about our work. There have been developments in the artistic language of Cuba, the likes of which I have never seen. A young group called Los Carpinteros, for example, has an amazing imagination and does incredible work. You see the same sort of thing with young photographers as well. In this exhibition that I’m in now there is a young photographer called Alóm who is very talented and whom I admire. He started with a small modest camera and now he’s here exhibiting in the Los Angeles County Museum. His work is very imaginative.

The last time I came I found this book dedicated to 135 photographers who were killed in Vietnam. Imagine, 135 photographers. It’s just an indication of the kind of work that photographers do in the world. It’s a very important thing...I regret not being at the Cuban revolutionary battle at the Sierra Maestra. I would have left a tremendous document for history.

LatinArt:  You said something the other day about the changing art scene in Cuba. One of those changes are the number of women artists now participating. Any comments about this?

Alberto Korda:  A very interesting development in these years following the revolution has been the advance of women photographers in Cuba. Many of them, I should say, are very good. Some of them have a great talent for shooting the female body. I am very happy to see the inclusion of so many women in photography and the arts where before the revolution there weren’t any. I did not know of any women working in Cuba before the revolution, either in photography or the arts in general. In Old Havana we have a Fototeca. There we have continual photo exhibitions of Cuban as well as international artists...something like this being supported financially by the state is something new. Let me tell you that at this moment in Cuba there is a great interest, since about a year ago, in the arts and culture. It’s incredible...Fidel is very much in support of this.

LatinArt:  The fact that we are here in the U.S. for an exhibition of Cuban photography revels the new popular interest that we have for the art of your country, particularly when it comes to art collectors. What do you think of this?

Alberto Korda:  Yes, the recent biennial saw a flood of North American gallery owners. This is the current reality.

Cuban photographers, myself included, have not had the benifit of official photographic academic training; there is no such thing in Cuba. We have all had to train ourselves. Whatever the situation, I always did my work with much love, but I never imagined being exhibited in the U.S., Tokyo, Paris, Buenos Aires...all this attention on me and on Cuban art in general in very interesting. Excuse me if I say this, but I think the American public realizes that we are not their enemy, that we admire them in fact. But we, with all our difficulties have progressed socially in our lives under the revolution, and would be prepared to defend ourselves if need be. Years ago when I was young I was a member of the militia. The missile crisis developed and I had two small children. That night I was going off to the trenches. I passed by my house and said goodby to my wife and kissed my children because I was sure we were facing an American invasion and a missile attack. That decision we Cubans took that day is what has given us strength and pride in the accomplishments of our country.

Many thanks to Darrel Couturier for his support and allowing us to conduct this interview in his home in Los Angeles.

back to artists