Foothill College presents Korda Moda, an exciting new exhibit that captures the evolution of Cuban fashion photography during the 1950s–1960s. This is the first exhibition dedicated to Korda’s fashion photography. Korda Moda, which runs through Dec. 6, features 30 photographs by Alberto Korda displayed at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Admission is free; parking is $3.
Foothill College Photography Instructor Ron Herman, MFA, will present a special lecture on the exhibit's final day, Friday, Dec. 6, from 3:30 to 4 p.m. in the KCI Gallery. Admission is free.
Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, known as Korda, is most famous for his image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. This image, titled Heroic Guerrilla, is the most reproduced image in the world. Prior to the revolution and shooting Heroic Guerrilla, Korda was a successful fashion photographer, defining the fashion photography aesthetic in Cuba. “The beauty of women was the first expression of my photography,” Korda said.
Havana was a booming tropical playground in the 1950s, where the rich and famous would fly for the weekend to enjoy its music, nightclubs, gambling and illicit nighttime activities. The city exuded glamour, and its socialites were dressed in the latest Parisian couture for lavish parties and debutante balls. Fashion was big business in Havana, and money was rolling in as fast as the airplanes could land. Even French Designer Christian Dior opened a salon inside Havana’s fashionable department store El Encanto.
“I wanted to become a famous fashion photographer because that way I would be able to meet the most beautiful women in Cuba,” Korda said. His first challenge was to find models in Cuba whose physiques resembled that which he saw on the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. “I had great difficulty finding a woman with classic lines…finally I met Norka,” he said, with whom he produced his most iconic fashion photographs. His three main models, Nidia Rios, Norka (Natalia Méndez) and Norma Martínez, all had European-looking features, which lent themselves to the particular aesthetic of beauty that Korda wanted to achieve. Korda quickly took command of the genre and became Cuba’s premier fashion photographer, often being referred to as the Cuban (Richard) Avedon.
The role of fashion in Cuba drastically changed after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. After Castro called for a “love of that which is ours, of our Patria, of our things,” Cuban became the dominant fashion motif. Cotton replaced Dacron as the fabric of choice and clothes bore a “Made in Cuba” label. The changing political and social climate can be seen reflected in Korda’s photographs from this period. Korda infused the conventions of fashion photography already established by Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn and Erwin Blumenfield with a Caribbean aesthetic, one that was distinctly Cuban.
On March 5, 1960, Korda shot the iconic photo of Che Guevara while photographing the public funeral of the victims of the bombing of the Belgian ship La Coubre with his Leica M2 camera, 90mm lens and Kodak Plus-X Pan film. “The Che photograph is a fashion photograph,” said former model Nidia Rios. Korda agreed that his images of the Revolution share the same sense of beauty as his fashion photography. “A man who develops a work like mine is always dedicated to something he loves,” he said. “I did that from the very beginning. I have loved the beauty of women as much as the beauty of those men who led the Revolution. The beauty of those men is not only aesthetic but also moral. Loving, as I did, the work I made with men like Castro and Che Guevara, you can see the similarities between both types of photography.”
Korda’s studio was nationalized on March 14, 1968, and all of his negatives were confiscated and removed to an undisclosed location. It is believed that only his negatives from the Cuban revolution have been preserved and the others, particularly those of elitist fashion, were tossed or destroyed. The photographer died in 2001 at the age of 72.
Foothill’s Korda Moda exhibition and accompanying catalog were done in 2013 in celebration of Korda’s 85th and Norka’s 75th birthdays, held respectively on Sept. 14 and Oct. 23, 2013.
The exhibit is located in the KCI Gallery at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. The KCI Gallery is open Mondays–Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery is closed Sundays and Nov. 11 and Nov. 28.
Parking Lot 4 provides best access to the KCI Gallery. Visitors must purchase a parking permit for $3 from dispensers in any student parking lot. Dispensers accept one-dollar bills and quarters; bring exact change. Foothill College is located off I-280 on El Monte Road in Los Altos Hills. For more information, view the exhibit blog at KordaModa.wordpress.com.