Posted tagged ‘Che Guevara’

Iconic photography

March 5, 2011

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.


January 2, 2009

For a few years, when I was a teenager, I had a copy of the iconic poster of Che Guevara on my bedroom wall. The original photograph on which it was based was taken by Alberto Korda, but the poster version which became so famous was the work of the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. For a generation of adolescents it was the banner of the ‘revolution’, something of an abstract concept that suggested that the world could be changed for ever and that posters on a bedroom wall were a start. In fact, I am not really dismissive about that particular phase so many of us went through, as it contributed to a heightened sense of political awareness and social justice and a desire for peace.

Che Guevara died, as many people know, in Bolivia in 1967, but Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba survived and even today is stuttering on, having made some compromises and concessions but, apart perhaps from North Korea under the Kim dynasty, having stayed truer to Communist purity than any other country. In fact, January 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the revolution. The socialist system it created can celebrate the occasion, but it is  not in a healthy state. Whether that is because the blockade by the United States over all these years has undermined the economy, or because old-style socialism has run its course, is something that can no doubt be debated.

But what I wonder is whether the bedrooms of students today are still decorated with Che’s poster, or indeed any other symbol of alternative frames of reference or progressive ideologies. I don’t have a rose-tinted view of Castro’s Cuba, which may have tackled educational disadvantage and healthcare better than most, but which is still an authoritarian dictatorship that often silences dissent. But I do believe that in order for society to retain an idealistic streak alongside the necessary pragmatism, young people in particular need to have visions and icons that lift the eyes above the idols of success and wealth, at least for a while. I hope that spirit is still alive.