Iconic photography

Exactly 51 years ago today, Alberto Korda took the famous photograph of Che Guevara (giving it the title Guerrillero Heroico) that was to adorn the bedrooms of hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults over the following decades. Few images can ever have influenced the cult status of an individual as much as this one did – in its original form and in the thousands of posterised versions that emerged subsequently. Guevara ceased to be an historical figure and became an image-based myth, part of the narrative of the 1960s and wave of design-driven new thinking that was its hallmark.

Who exactly knows anything about Che these days, and if they knew, how many would be interested in his politics and exploits? But his photo is still everywhere. It is a remarkable achievement.

Explore posts in the same categories: history, photography


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10 Comments on “Iconic photography”

  1. John Says:

    The man behind the T-shirt:

    Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Author)
    ISBN-10: 0007277210
    ISBN-13: 978-0007277216

    How the revolutionaries won in Cuba without Facebook and Twitter – in Che’s words. Exciting battle descriptions.

  2. anna notaro Says:

    Gavin Turk, a contemporary British artist interested in pop/celebrity culture representations has produced some interesting work with the iconic image of the ‘Che’
    and http://gavinturk.com/artworks/image/2873/

  3. Sally Says:

    The first two comments highlight the striking contrast between content and form, modern and postmodern.

    However, as Ferdy will point out, this bloglet is about the image.

    Perhaps it is understandable that in a period when the means of production in the West are focussed so heavily on information and entertainment, for many significance is vested in how things are perceived rather than how they actually are.

    Unfortunately this fantasy has now extended to money, which seems lately to represent nothing but itself.

  4. A few weeks ago, Time magazine cited Che Guevara as one of the twenty-five most influential political icons world-wide of the last one hundred years. Influential, yes. Universally revered? That’s another story. If you live in Miami, for example, the name of Che Guevara is anathema. But if you are in the working class in Buenos Aires (or anywhere else in South America) he is a saint.

    This man, who was central to Fidel Castro’s overthrow of Fulgencio Batista’s government in 1959 and who is the iconic figure of the Cuban revolution to this day (Fidel notwithstanding) is the beneficiary of an enormous glut of written biography and documentary film, plus one very distinguished dramatic film (The Motorcycle Diaries by Walter Salles). He is also the subject of whole libraries-ful of political journalism and commentary.

    Politically there’s little subtlety, depending upon which side of the spectrum you prefer. For very many, Guevara remains a Stalinist totalitarian and a murderer. For countless others, he is the hero who stood up to the United States, denounced that country on the world stage, and paid for it with his life in a dirt-floor schoolroom in Bolivia in 1967. The Catholic Church condemns him to this day. Those who love him would, to this day, sanctify him.

    But there could be a middle ground, a place where Che Guevara’s heart exists and is available for thoughtful examination. It’s a ground that, in Guevara’s case, has not much been populated, though. Fiction at its best is a vehicle for exposing the human heart. My favorite kind is that in which the hero goes from an emotional state of not-knowing to a state of knowledge, the novel itself being the description of that emotional discovery. Fiction has done this so often, and with such distinction, that many of the greatest examples of soulful exploration ever lie in the pages of novels, from Don Quixote to Dickens to Don Delillo and everywhere in between.

    A recent survey on Wikipedia of fiction about Che Guevara, though, lists only a dozen books. Some have a right-wing political bent (William F. Buckley’s See You Later Alligator) and they can be disregarded right away because of that. The left-wing political stuff as well. With regard to both of these, political fiction is really political opinion done up with stylistic ribbons and bows, and not much else. Others of these twelve novels are just not very good. Jay Cantor’s fine The Death of Che Guevara goes a very long way toward exploring the emotional life of this very violent man. But for the most part, there’s little in fiction about Guevara that matters.

    This despite the fact that there are many contemporary novels about other great historical figures that are very distinguished indeed: Gabriel García Marquéz’s The General in His Labyrinth about Simón Bolívar, Tomas Eloy Martinez’s The Perón Novel about Juan Domingo Perón and Hilary Mantel’s critically-acclaimed Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell, to name a few. From these we know that it can be done.

    For good or ill, Che Guevara deserves fine fiction. So, where are the novelists of this man’s soul, and when do we get to see their books?

    (Terence Clarke’s most recent book, A Kiss For Señor Guevara, was published this July.)

  5. John Says:

    A propos the above:

    An atheist’s prayer: Grant me the power to see things as they really are.

  6. Thorsten Lauterbach Says:

    The image has recently led to a copyright argument:

    J Doward, “Row rages over iconic image of Che Guevara”, The Observer, 7 March 2011


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