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Che Guevara (photo)

Alberto Korda's famous photograph of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara entitled: Guerrillero Heroico (translates to: "Heroic Guerrilla"), was taken on March 5, 1960, in Havana, Cuba, at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. The photo was not published internationally until seven years later. At the moment of capture, Korda has stated that he was drawn to Guevara's facial expression at the time, which was one of "absolute implacability "anger", and "pain. Years later Korda would reminisce that in his view, the photo encapsulated Che's "character, firmness, stoicism, and resoluteness. Guevara was 31 at the time the photo was taken.

Showing the image's ubiquitous nature and wide appeal, the Maryland Institute College of Art called this picture "the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century. Various versions of it have been painted, printed, digitized, embroidered, tattooed, silk-screened, sculpted or sketched on nearly every surface imaginable; leading the V&A Museum to proclaim it "the most reproduced image in the history of photography." Jonathan Green director of the UCR/California Museum of Photography has postulated that "Korda’s image has worked its way into languages around the world. It has become an alpha-numeric symbol, a hieroglyph, an instant symbol. It mysteriously reappears whenever there’s a conflict. There isn’t anything else in history that serves in this way.

Origins

On March 5, 1960, President Fidel Castro called a memorial service and mass demonstration at Havana's Colón Cemetery, to honor more than 100 Cubans killed in the suspicious La Coubre explosion the day before. At the time, Guevara (who personally treated victims of the blast) was Minister of Industry in the new government, and Korda was Castro’s official photographer. After a funeral march along the seafront boulevard known as Malecón, Fidel Castro gave a eulogy for the fallen at a stage on 23rd street. During Castro’s speech before thousands of onlookers, at 11:20 am for a few seconds, Guevara came into view. Korda from a distance of about 25-30 feet, snapped just two frames of him before he disappeared from sight. Later Korda told Jorge Castaneda, one of Guevara's biographers:

Korda would also remark many years later in 2000, about the moment he captured the iconic image:

During the rally, Korda took pictures of Cuban dignitaries and famous French existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, both admirers of Guevara at the time. Included in the film roll were shots of all the speakers and two pictures of Che’s brief appearance. The first photo had Guevara framed alone between an anonymous silhouette and a palm tree; the second with someone's head appearing above his shoulder. The first picture, with the intruding material cropped out, became Guevara's most famous portrait. The editor of Revolución where Korda worked, decided to only use his shots of Castro, Sartre, and Beauvoir, while sending the Che shot back to Korda. Believing the image was powerful, Korda made a version for himself, stating:

Many visitors passed through the studio and saw the image, but it is unknown how many prints Korda made or gave to visitors from different countries during the years of 1961-1966, prints which could have also formed the basis for early dissemination of the image.

Technical

To take the photo, Korda used a Leica M2 with a 90 mm lens, loaded with Kodak Plus-X pan film. The classic picture appears on frame number 40 shot horizontally.

Korda

As a life-long communist and supporter of the Cuban revolution, Alberto Korda claimed no payment for his picture. A modified version of the portrait through the decades was also reproduced on a range of different media, though Korda never asked for royalties. Korda reasoned that Che's image represented his revolutionary ideals, and thus the more his picture spread the greater the chance Che's ideals would spread as well. However, Korda did not want commercialization of the image in relation to products he believed Guevara would not support, especially alcohol.

This belief was displayed for the first time in 2000, when in response to Smirnoff using Che's picture in a vodka commercial, Korda sued advertising agency Lowe Lintas and Rex Features, the company that supplied the photograph. Lintas and Rex claimed that the image was "obviously in the public domain." The final result was an out of court settlement for (US) 50,000 to Korda, which he donated to the Cuban healthcare system.

However, he was not against its propagation altogether, telling reporters:

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

Passed out to the occasional friend and published in a few small Cuban publications, Che’s image remained relatively unknown for 7 years. The photograph was then acquired by wealthy Italian publisher and intellectual Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in 1967. Feltrinelli had just returned from Bolivia where he had hoped his fame would help in negotiating the release of French journalist and professor Regis Debray. Debray had been arrested in Bolivia in connection with guerrilla operations led by Che Guevara. As Guevara's eventual capture or death appeared to be imminent with the CIA closing in on his whereabouts, Feltrinelli acquired the rights to publish Che's captured Bolivian Diary. At this time Feltrinelli asked Cuban officials where to obtain Guevara images and was directed to Korda’s studio where he presented a letter of introduction from the government. The document asked for Korda’s assistance in finding a good portrait of Che. Korda knew right away that his favorite image of Che was perfect and pointed to the 1960 shot of Che hanging on the wall, "This is my best Che picture". Feltrinelli agreed and ordered 2 prints. When he returned the next day to pick them up Korda told him that because he was a friend of the revolution he didn’t have to pay.

Upon his return to Italy, Feltrinelli disseminated thousands of copies of the poster to raise awareness of Che's precarious situation and impending demise. Later in 1968 after his October 9 1967 execution, Che's Bolivian Diary with Korda's photo on the cover was released worldwide. Feltrinelli also posters to promote the book, which sold over 1 million copies. By this time, Korda's image had officially entered the public consciousness.

Milan 1967

Feltrinelli's version of the image was used in October 1967 in Milan, Italy, when spontaneous protests occurred in response to the news of Che's death:

Paris Match

Guerrillero Heroico also appeared in the July 1967 issue of Paris Match. Published only a few months before his eventual capture and execution, the issue featured a major article entitled "Les Guerrilleros" by journalist Jean Lartéguy. Lartéguy wrote "At a time when Cuban revolutionaries want to create Vietnams all over the world, the Americans run the risk of finding their own Algeria in Latin America. The article ended by asking "Where is Che Guevara?" The caption of the photo read "The official photograph of Che Guevara; on his beret the star, the symbol of the Comandante. It is not known who provided the magazine with the image, and it was also not credited to Feltrinelli. However, with its wide circulation throughout Europe, and its status as an influential news journal, Paris Match could also be viewed as one of the original purveyors of the image.

Riots

During the May 1968 Paris student riots, which eventually led to the collapse of the de Gaulle government, organizer "Danny The Red" utilized Fitzpatrick's rendition of Che during the protests. At this time, Che's image was picked up by the Dutch Anarchist group "The Provos" in Amsterdam, who focused on provoking violent responses from authorities using non-violent means.

Jim Fitzpatrick

In 1967, Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick was also Korda's image as a basis for creating his own stylized posters.

To create the image Fitzpatrick made a paper negative on a piece of equipment called a grant. They were then printed in one color black and one color red, and he handpainted the star in yellow. Fitzpatrick "wanted the image to breed like rabbits" and hand printed thousands of images to give away to anyone for free in London, in addition to getting friends to pass them out while encouraging others to make their own versions. He printed about a hundred copies at a time to fulfill the demand of political groups in Ireland, France, and Holland who began requesting the image. A batch was also sent to Spain, where they were seized by Franco's police.

Because of the high demand, Fitzpatrick formed a poster company called Two Bear Feet and produced a variety of posters in 1967 using the Korda image. All of them were created without copyright, because Fitzpatrick wanted them to be reproduced. One of these posters would be published in the satirical magazine Private Eye. The most well known was printed on silver foil and was exhibited in an exhibition in London called "Viva Che" at the Arts Laboratory, curated by Peter Meyer. This show was originally to be held at the Lisson Gallery in 1968 and illustrates how fast the image moved from protest into the realm of the fine art. Because of Fitzpatrick's desire for "there to be a bit of me in there", he raised Che’s eyes more and added his initial, a reversed "F" on the shoulder. However, it was not until the 40th anniversary of Che's death, that Fitzpatrick admitted to this fact stating "I’m a bit mischievous, so I never told anyone.” At this same time Fitzpatrick expressed that "I love the picture and wherever I am in the world, if I see it, I take a photo of it. I always have a chuckle when I see that little "F". I know that it’s mine.

Meeting Che in Ireland

According to Fitzpatrick, in 1962 while a teenage student at Gormanston College he worked a summer job at a hotel pub called 'Kilkee', in the remote town of his mother's birth. One day Che Guevara walked in with two other Cubans and ordered an Irish Whiskey. Fitzpatrick immediately recognized him because of his interest in the Cuban revolution. Knowing about the Irish diaspora and history in Argentina, Fitzpatrick asked Che vaguely about his roots. Che told Fitzpatrick that his grandmother was Irish and that his great-grandmother Isabel, was from Galway, with other family being from Cork. Guevara's father also bore the Irish surname "Lynch." Fitzpatrick describes Che as "curious" about Ireland "from a revolutionary point of view" and remarks that Che proclaimed his "great admiration" for the fact that in his view, Ireland was the first country to "shake off the shackles of the British Empire". Apparently Che was stranded on an overnight flight from Moscow to Cuba, and had touched down at Shannon airport, where the Soviet airline Aeroflot, had a refueling base. Unable to depart because of thick fog, Che and his accompanying Cubans took the day off for an "unofficial" visit. It was this experience according to Fitzpatrick, that gave him the impetus to follow the future actions of Che, including his ill fated mission to Bolivia.

Cuba

Korda's photo was first published on April 16 1961, in the daily Cuban newspaper Revolución, advertising a noon conference during which the main speaker was "Dr. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara." The conference was disrupted however, when 1,300 CIA-supported counter-revolutionaries stormed the beaches of Cuba, in what became known as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The image was thus republished a second time advertising the newly convened conference on April 28 1961. Because of this fact, it seems very likely that in the context of both of these publications, that Che could have seen the photograph that would later contribute to his iconic status.

The very first time Cubans on a large scale became familiar with the photograph, despite its earlier reproduction in Revolución, was on hearing the news of Che's murder. Upon the news of Che's execution, it was enlarged and draped on a banner down the five-story building of the Ministry of the Interior in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. This building where Che himself had formerly worked, served as a backdrop to Fidel's eulogy on October 18 1967, publicly acknowledging the death of Che Guevara before a crowd of over a million mourners. José Gómez Fresquet, renowned Cuban poster maker and graphic artist, recalls how on hearing the news of Guevara’s death, he immediately worked all night producing the poster to be used at the rally honoring him the next day. Korda had given Fresquet a copy of the portrait as a basis for the poster, which he created on red paper. This was the first privately produced Guerrillero Heroico to be created in Cuba. Since then the building has seen many versions of the image, and today a permanent steel outline, derived from the photograph adorns the building.

U.S.A.

Guerrillero Heroico made its American debut in 1968, when the image appeared in painted by Paul Davis, for a poster advertising the February issue of Evergreen Review. Formatted to fit New York subway billboards, the response was systematic defacement, and a bomb was thrown into the Evergreen Review offices.

However the fascination was not solely an American phenomenon, for instance British journalist Richard Gott who met with Che Guevara several times expressed a similar view, by stating how he was "struck by his magnetic physical attraction, comparable to the aura of a rock star." In Gott's opinion "almost everyone had the same impression, and journalists were particularly susceptible." Argentinian journalist Julia Costenlos, recalls that in her view he was "blessed with a unique appeal, an incalculable enchantment that came completely naturally. Indian Ambassador K Gajendra Singh, posted in 1965 as a young diplomat in Algiers, recalls his own similar personal encounter with meeting Guevara; describing him as "indisputably the dazzling star of the show" and compared shaking his hand at an economic seminar to "getting an autograph of a celebrity." According to Singh, Che's "charismatic presence in green olive fatigues and black beret" at the time embodied "the very best of the Hollywood and Bollywood stars all rolled into one"

Influence on art and culture

According to the V&A Museum, "the photograph enshrines Che as a mythic hero. Taken from below, the revolutionary leader with searching eyes and resolute expression becomes larger than life. A perspective that dominates the imagery of social realism, it bears an irresistible aura of authority, independence and defiance." The V&A Museum goes on to state that Korda’s famous photograph first deified Che and turned him into an icon of radical chic. Its story, a complex mesh of conflicting narratives, gave Guerrillero Heroico a life of its own, an enduring fascination independent of Che himself. The Italian magazine Skime evokes even more praise, decreeing it "absolutely the most famous of history" while proclaiming that it "captures beauty and youth, courage and generosity, aesthetic and moral virtues of a person who possessed all the characteristics necessary to be converted into a symbol of an epoch like ours, lacking in historic legends and mythic incarnations. Journalist Richard Gott has also remarked that "the red star in Che's beret was up there with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Fitzpatrick's graphic was later used in a 1968 painting attributed to Andy Warhol and sold to a gallery in Rome. The painting used the same graphic processes used on the acclaimed Marilyn Monroe pieces. However this painting was a forgery, created by Gerard Malanga who was in need of money. When Warhol heard of the fraud, he shrewdly authenticated the fake, providing that all the money from sales went to him.

Exhibits

Posters and covers

  • Che Guevara was on the cover of the August 8, 1960 issue of Time Magazine. The cover story identified Che as "Castro's Brain.
  • In 1967 Polish artist Roman Cieslewicz designed a poster with the words "Che Si" (translation: 'Yes Che') emblazoned over his face as eyes and nose. This was later featured on the October 1967 cover of the French art magazine Opus International.
  • In 1968, Elena Serrano produced a widely distributed poster entitled "Day of the Heroic Guerrilla", which shows telescoping images of Korda's photograph expanding to cover the entire red map of South America.
  • The 1968 February issue of Evergreen Review, featured Che's image in a painted form by Paul Davis.
  • The September 1969 issue of Tricontinental Magazine featured an conjoined image of Korda's Che with Ho Chi Minh.
  • During a 1969 student strike at Berkeley, a poster was produced and distributed with a cartoon bubble coming from Che's mouth possessing the words: "Shut it down!"
  • In 1970, the Art Workers' Coalition produced a widely distributed anti-Vietnam War poster featuring an outline of Che on a yellow background, with his famous quotation: "Let me say at the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."
  • The September 16, 1996 editon of Der Spiegel magazine entitled: "The Myth of Che Guevara", featured Che's image adorned with a halo of moving bullets.
  • A computerized rendition of Guerrillero Heroico appeared on the cover of the March 1-7, 2006 issue of Metro, above the title "The Blog Revolution."

Commodity

Trisha Ziff, the curator of a 2004 touring exhibition on the iconography of Che agrees stating "Che Guevara has become a brand. And the brand's logo is the image, which represents change. It has become the icon of the outside thinker, at whatever level, whether it is anti-war, pro-green or anti-globalisation. Its presence, everywhere from Belfast to Soweto, or from walls in the Palestinian territories to Parisian boutiques, makes it an image that is out of control. It has become a corporation, an empire, at this point.

Alberto Korda's photo has received wide distribution and modification, appearing on countless numbers of t-shirts, posters, consumer products, protest banners, personal tattoos, and in many other formats. It has morphed into an iconic countercultural symbol for a new generation of youth. The image is now worn on the chests of a diverse group of individuals, from those who truly support the ideals that Che Guevara lived for, to those expressing a more generalized anti-authoritarian stance, and to those who may not even know who he actually is.

Iconography

The stylized image of Che Guevara, adapted from Korda's photograph, is most commonly accompanied by several different symbols which add context to its inherent suggested meaning. The most common of these are the red star, hammer and sickle, Cuban flag, and the saying in Spanish "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" (Translations: "Until Victory Always" & "Until the Everlasting Victory"). The multi meaning phrase became the sign off for Che Guevara's numerous letters and speeches as a revolutionary, and represent the commitment to both never give up on the eventual triumph of a Marxist World revolution, and the belief that this victory once it occurs, will be eternal. As a result, "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" has become a de-facto slogan or catchphrase, used as a motto by those who continue to support and/or admire Che Guevara's life and/or ideals.

Current legal status

The legal ownership and copyright of Guerrillero Heroico is complex and un-established internationally. Since Korda's 2001 death, his heirs have even been disputing among themselves copyright ownership of the famous picture. Korda's daughter Diana Diaz, has pursued one successful lawsuit in 2003 in France against a Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders, for using the Che photograph in a poster campaign decrying Cuba as "the world's largest jail", aimed at dissuading French tourists from vacationing in Cuba after the jailing of 29 dissident journalists. After her successful legal challenge, Korda's daughter declared to the Cuban newspaper Granma that "Reporters Without Borders should call themselves Reporters Without Principles. As for the charge of jailing dissident journalists, Reporters Without Borders has been described as an "ultra-reactionary" organization by the official Cuban state newspaper Granma.

In 2007, legal analyst Sarah Levy addressed the potential legal status of the famous image in Cuba and the United States. It is her ultimate contention that in Cuba "despite the claims of ownership from Korda's heirs, the State would now hold any rights associated with the photograph. However, regarding the United States, she postulates that "Under the relatively low requirements articulated by U.S. courts, Korda's Guevara image should obtain copyright protection. She ends her article by declaring that "The outcome of future litigation hinges upon the duration of protection available within a jurisdiction. In regards to the more commonly disseminated sylized version of the photo, lawyers say it will be an uphill struggle to deter non-photographic use of such a widely reproduced image, other than in countries like Italy where laws protect image rights.

Ariana Hernández-Reguant also addressed the legality in 2004, with a less promising view towards Korda's heirs being able to establish ownership over the image in Copyrighting Che: Art and Authorship under Cuban Late Socialism. She notes how in reference to the case of (Korda v. Lintas & Rex), "There was never any official ruling on whether the depiction constituted a violation of copyright." The author goes on to state that: "Korda took the picture while working for a state-run newspaper, his actual property rights would be questionable under both Cuban and international law.

Guevara's heirs also believe they have legal justification to prevent the image's "exploitation." Guevara's Cuban widow Aleida March, who will lead the effort from the Che Guevara Studies Center, stated in 2005 that "We have a plan to deal with the misuse. We can't attack everyone with lances like Don Quixote, but we can try to maintain the ethics of Guevara's legacy. In reference to this pronouncement, Guevara's daughter Aleida Guevara told Reuters, "It will be costly and difficult because each country has different laws, but a limit has to be drawn. However, the family has not yet mounted court challenges.

Content notes

Further reading

  • Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon, by Trisha Ziff, Abrams Image, 2006, ISBN 0810957183
  • Che: Images of a Revolutionary, by Oscar Sola, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 0745317006
  • Che: The Photobiography of Che Guevara, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998, ISBN 1560251875
  • Cuba by Korda, by Christophe Loviny & Alberto Korda, Ocean Press (AU), 2006, ISBN 1920888640
  • Fidel's Cuba: A Revolution in Pictures, by Osvaldo Salas, Atria Books, 1999, ISBN 1560252456
  • Revolucion!: Cuban Poster Art, by Lincoln Cushing, Chronicle Books, 2003, ISBN 0811835820
  • Self Portrait Che Guevara, by Ernesto Guevara & Victor Casaus, Ocean Press (AU), 2004, ISBN 1876175826
  • The Art of Revolution, Castro's Cuba: 1959-1970, by Susan Sontag, McGraw Hill Book Company, 1970, ASIN B000UDTJ6I

Film

  • Che Guevara: Kordavision, 2008 (87 min). Directed by Hector Cruz Sandoval.
  • Chevolution, 2008, Produced by Trisha Ziff & Directed by Luis Lopez, Red Envelope Entertainment.
  • Personal Che, 2008, Directed by Adriana Mariño and Douglas Duarte.

Notes

External links

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