Symbolising a Revolution

 
The uncropped version of Che Guevara's iconic photograph. Photograph/Alberto Korda; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The uncropped version of Che Guevara’s iconic photograph. Photograph/Alberto Korda; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This picture, titled Guerrillero Heroico, or Heroic Guerrilla, did not only serve as a document of a revolution, but also as a symbol of the unrest. A portrait of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, the picture was made by Alberto Korda at a memorial service for victims of the explosion of a freighter called La Coubre. Korda said that he was drawn to the expression on Che’s face, which showed anger and pain. While this was the original frame, Korda later cropped out the other elements so that the picture only included Che’s face.

Interestingly, this photo was relatively unknown for seven years as it was never published. Around the time when Che’s capture seemed imminent, Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli got the rights to publish Che’s manuscript Bolivian Diary and used the image on the cover.

Bolivian Diary has several editions today. The most popular versions, though, have a variation of Korda's picture as the cover.

Bolivian Diary has several editions today. The most popular versions, though, have a variation of Korda’s picture as the book cover.

Che was finally captured and executed on 9 October 1967. Over the years, the image has become one of the most romanticised and recognisable photographs in popular culture. It has been printed and painted on a variety of media, including T-shirts, posters, stickers and so on.

Due to his communist background, Korda refused to accept royalties. He believed that this would ensure that the picture is reproduced more often. He said, “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. But I am categorically against the exploitation of Che’s image for the promotion of products or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che.”

It is interesting to view Korda’s contact sheet because he managed to capture only two frames of Che through the entire memorial service.

The contact sheet that shows one entire roll of film shot at the memorial service. All photographs by Alberto Korda

The contact sheet that shows one entire roll of film shot at the memorial service. All photographs by Alberto Korda

Tags: Alberto Korda, august 2011, Cuban Revolution, Ernesto Che Guevara, Guerrillero Heroico, Heroic Guerrilla, Story behind the image