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Che Guevara photographer dies

Posted by mcelynrh on May 27, 2009

Alberto Korda, the photographer who took the picture of Che Guevara that became an icon of left-wing revolutionaries and students worldwide, has died aged 72.

Korda, whose real name was Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, suffered a heart attack while in Paris for an exhibition of his works.


He worked for the Cuban newspaper Revolucion after Fidel Castro’s forces took power in 1959 – although it did not publish the famous picture.

Korda later worked as Castro’s personal photographer.

“It’s a great loss for Cuban culture. He was one of the top chroniclers of the revolution,” said fellow Cuban photographer Liborio Noval.

Two shots

Korda took the photo for which he will be best remembered at a memorial service in March 1960.

Che Guevara stepped onto the podium and scanned the crowd. Korda snapped two quick shots, including the legendary one of the revolutionary with his beret, gazing like a prophet into the distance.


Image of Che Guevara on the Cuban Ministry of Defence
Che is an icon of the revolutionary left



Revolucion rejected the photo, instead running pictures of Castro and the French writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

But Korda recognised its greatness and kept the photo tacked to his wall for seven years, until an Italian journalist saw it.

Korda allowed the Italian to take it, and when Che Guevara was killed a few months later, it was published as a poster in Italy.

It immediately became one of the most recognisable images of leftist revolution, and has been reproduced on countless T-shirts, banners and posters since.

No profits

Although Korda kept the negative and the camera with which he took the photo, he never received royalties for the picture that the Maryland Institute of Art called “the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century”.

He was happy to see it used as a revolutionary banner – but when a vodka company used it in an advertisement last year, Korda drew the line.


Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Korda was Mr Castro’s personal photographer



He filed suit in London.

“As a supporter of the ideals for which Che Guevara died, I am not averse to its reproduction by those who wish to propagate his memory and the cause of social justice throughout the world,” Korda said in the autumn of 2000.

“But I am categorically against the exploitation of Che’s image for the promotion of products such as alcohol, or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che.”

Korda won an out-of-court settlement of about $50,000, which he donated to the Cuban medical system.

“If Che were still alive, he would have done the same,” Korda told the Reuters news agency.

Korda’s other memorable photos include shots of the victorious rebels arriving in Havana and Quixote of the Lamp Post, which shows a Cuban man sitting on a lamp post in a sea of people listening to a Castro speech.

He photographed Castro playing golf and fishing with Guevara, in the company of writer Ernest Hemingway, and staring at a tiger in a New York zoo.

One Response to “Che Guevara photographer dies”

  1. nrohr said

    This article makes me think of something I wonder about a lot. That image of Che is so widespread and popular on t-shirts, posters, stickers, you name it. Tobar provided us with his family’s connection with Che and his understanding of him as a young person. I wonder though how many people who wear or display Che’s image really know about him, or what they are saying by doing that. For instance, my cousin has a Che shirt, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know much about him, and I know he doesn’t have any particular connection with Hispanic culture, and I’m positive that he has no interest in Latin American socialist revolution. I guess he just liked the shirt–it is a cool image, and plenty of people have them. But I think you’re making kind of a big statement when you “wear someone” on your shirt–or you should be anyway. But in this case, what is the statement? Certainly, I see Che’s popularity as a wish for what could have been. He just seems popularized so widely, beyond the point of it making sense.

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