ENN 191-0921 11/23/10 Prof. Tanenbaun Castro Jimenez Mirtha
“Guerrillero Heroico” (Heroic Guerrilla fighter)
When analyzing the image of someone’s face, it is difficult to divorce the life and legacy of the person from the message and journey of the image itself. The photograph “Guerrillero Heroico” was taken in March of 1960, at a memorial type mass funeral for more than hundred Cubans. They became martyrs of the revolution, victims of the explosion of freighter carrying ammunition for the revolution. Both Castro and Guevara were convinced that this was the work of the CIA.
In that picture Alberto Korda, fashion Photographer who became Castro’s personal photographer, captured more than just the face of then thirty one year old Ernesto Guevara better known as “Che”. Korda also captured the essence of the political climate of Cuba at the time. The black and white picture shows Guevara’s firm expression of anger mixed with sadness, pensive eyes, unruly hair and rough, beard against an open sky. Korda immediately knew that his favorite image of Che. It was perfect, the photo was the best of those he had taken of Che. Although in my opinion, contradictory to the image. Korda described “the photo showed Che's firm and stoic character”.
The image, portrait of Argentinean Marxist guerrilla leader, found today in everything from Tshirts, mugs and belt buckles was for seven years exclusive in the house of an Italian publicist named Feltrinelli, who visited Korda in Havana, Cuba. The death of a hero marked the bith on legend. Trisha Ziff, the curator of a touring exhibition on the “Iconography of Che”. Told the BBC in the article, Che: The icon and the ad. "His death was followed by demonstrations, first in Milan and then elsewhere. Very soon afterwards there was the Prague Spring and May '68 in France. Europe was in turmoil. People wanted change, disruption and rebellion and he became a symbol of that change." He published and gave out hundreds of copies of the poster free as a response of the news of Guevara’s death in 1967. Later Feltrinelli published the book “Che’s Bolivian Diaries” and used the image in its cover, He also sold thousand of posters. While in Cuba the image was used as a banner that draped from the five-storey building of the Ministry of the Interior in Havana. Today, a permanent steel outline of the image watches over the Plaza de la Revolución.
A year later the image the deceased revolutionary, was spread all over Europe. As a symbol of radical thought it was used to fuel all kinds of protest and young political movements in the 60s amongst this were the Uprisings in Paris, the protest of Prague Spring, and the Civil Rights Movement in Ireland 1916.
Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick , who says met Che when he visited Ireland, produced a graphic piece based on the Korda’s photograph that in itself became iconic. Political groups asked for the image from within Ireland, Spain, France and Holland. Hundred copies were made.
By this time the image that inspired millions and also made millions if not more in profit. Not for the man who shot the legendary picture but for the publisher. ‘copyright Feltrinelli’. Due to Fidel Castro’s refusal to sign the Berne Convention, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Korda couldn’t receive any royalties for his intellectual property. Until the early 1990s Cuba joined the protection of the rights of authors in their literary and artistic works. Only nine years before his death in 2001, Korda was credited for the image but never received any payment for its reproduction. Ferltrinelli, Andy Warhol, and Jim Fitzpatrick, amongst many others who exploited the charismatic appeal of the image. Journalist Michael Casey said in a interview with CNN;
"Whether or not people believe in Che's hard-line version of Marxism, they want hope. They want hope and beauty -- and somehow both of those things are encapsulated in this image. And so you get people investing their dreams in it. I think that is at the heart of it, with all these other forces: political, artistic, marketing, economic, all coming together in a way that really makes it a ubiquitous brand."
Not only artist profited. In 1990s when a London court prevented the use of the image in a Smirnoff advertising campaign for copyright reasons. Today the image is used by those who know and respect Che’s legacy and those who think is it fashionable. Casey explores this phenomenon in his book "In Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image”.
“It's impossible to overlook the irony: the commoditization of an anticapitalist rebel who opposed all that his hyper-commercialized image now represents. But despite the conversion of Che into what political commentator Alvaro Vargas Llosa describes as the "quintessential capitalist brand" and the fact that most young Americans know him only as a T-shirt logo, for millions more around the world the Korda image remains a powerful indicator of rebellion and resistance.”
Both loved and hated “Guerrilero Heroico” has changed, from its conception, that fateful day forty three years ago to now. Stephanie Holmes from the BBC News, said “It is perhaps the most reproduced, recycled and ripped off image of the 20th Century.” In her 2007 article.
“Those who criticize the heroism and dedication of Guevara also use the image to express their opinions”.
By making satirical reproductions, changing the image slightly they choose express their opinion. For example there is a reproduction of the red and black Fitzpatrick image with a Nike check in place of the star on his beret. The concept of interchanging the star for the Nike sing can be interpreted in different ways. It could be a criticism to the people how love the image as a fashion statement and have no idea what Guevara actually advocated. Or it could be a direct blow to the deceased revolutionary by putting a symbol of capitalism on his head. It’s similar to another reproduction of that changes the beret for a Disney’s, Mickey Mouse ears. There are other images that leave little space guess work and interpretation. It is the iconic image but here Guevara is wearing a Muslim head wrap. To my surprise many Americans believe that he was a terrorist. I guess terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. Amongst many other satirical reproductions, it is one that doesn’t cease to amuse me, is the one were his face is cut out and replaced by numerous characters. There is so many, everything from politicians to singers and of course the regular folk. I have seen President Obama, Cher, Bush, Biggie, a sckeleton and even a chiken.
According to Lincoln Cushing, author of 2003, "Revolucion!: Cuban Poster Art", ”As a life-long communist and supporter of the Cuban revolution, Alberto Korda claimed no payment for his picture. Even though many parodies and imitations of the portrait were reproduced on a mass scale for decades, Korda never asked for anything in return. 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.”
Jim Fitzpatrick did have and an interest for the Cuban revolution and claims he met Guevara at a bar where he was working. When asked about his famous art work based on Korda’s photograph he usually talk about himself. He said he wanted to make the image famous to keep the memory of Che alive and he does say that he plans to donate money to the Cuban Childrens hospital.
What the picture does not show is that Ernesto “Che” Guevara had a family, that he was a doctor by profession, that he spoke with the people he wanted to help and even after he had a good secure position in the Cuban government he chose to put himself in harm’s way to spread his ideals and if he was not killed he would not have stopped. He had big plans for Latin America.
There is a large following for Che Guevara due to the long lasting effect of that image and it did inspire people from countries that were influenced by the man, it has also does for countries which were influenced by the image. It helped inspire numerous movements around the world. It also inspired a fashion and a past time. May be it is not too late reclaim the iconic image for the ideals of equality unity and anti oppression. May be Che does not live on through of the image but through his ideals and the picture can be used as a visual reminder that some time we as a people forget what truly matters in life.
1.Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Paris Text 1971) (1871)
2 ."In Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image, Michael Casey.
7."Revolucion!: Cuban Poster Art", by Lincoln Cushing, Chronicle Books, 2003
3.BBC News Che: The icon and the ad. By Stephanie Holmes, 5 October 2007
4. Guerrillero Heroico: a Brief History By Trisha Ziff, 2005
5. Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon, by Trisha Ziff, Abrams Image, 2006
6. CNN Video: Examining an Iconic