The truth behind the picture

We all know that picture. Revolutionary Che Guevara in a thinking pose with a military beret on his head. There’s no doubt that this is the most popular photo of him and one of the best known images of all times. But what and who really is the person behind that picture?

The photo, which is titled Guerrillero Heroico or Heroic Guerilla Fighter, was taken on 5 March 1960 in Havana by Alberto Korda. Although the snapshot of the revolutionary counts among the most reproduced images in the world until today, the photographer has never earned a dime with it. “It was just pure coincidence,” Alberto Korda reflected years later about the creation of that photo. Che Guevara appeared in front of the camera only for a short moment and the photographer managed to take two pictures, of which one has become a legend.

For photographer Alberto Korda, the presentation of Ernesto Che Guevara at the memorial service for the victims of a cargo accident on 5 March 1960 became the snapshot of his lifetime. The 68-generation made the revolutionary leader a pop icon. His face could be seen on posters, T-shirts and flags. Che Guevara became a global icon whose cult status has survived until today.

In the beginning, the picture was only published on one of the last pages of the paper “Revolución”. Only years later, when Alberto Korda gave the photo to Italian editor Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the career of the photo started. He sold Guevara’s portrait as a title picture printed on the rebel’s diaries. For a long time, hardly anybody knew who the creator of this master snapshot actually was. Despite its stunning reproduction, the photographer never received any money for it. Only in 2000, when a vodka producer used the image as an advertisement, a court in London awarded 50,000 US dollars to the photographer. But still the photo would accompany him for the rest of his life. Until his death one year later, he’d carry it inside a medal around his neck.

In contrast to him, Andy Warhol earned quite a lot with the picture. He sold it as a pop art style image. The picture was reproduced many times and the posters with the same subject have found their way into the homes of several shared flats since the end of the 1960s, next to Jimi Hendrix and Ho Chi Minh. The iconic portrait, however, is only one image detail of the original snapshot. On the left and right hand sides, a palm tree and part of another face could be seen. But only Che alone would remain in the end.


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