© Alberto Korda [Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, 1928-2001]
“[During a memorial in 1960] at the foot of the podium draped in black crepe, my eye pressed to my old leica, I was focusing on Fidel and the people around him. Suddenly, through the 90 mm lens el Che loomed above me. I was surprised by his look … I was about 8 or 10 meters (yards) from the tribune where Fidel Castro was speaking… ‘ – Alberto Korda
Korda pointed his Leica and took two frames. Remarkably, the photo was rejected for publication by Korda’s newspaper. Back in his darkroom Korda enlarged, among others, the Che frames cropped to display the headshot of the legend. The editor at “Revolution” picked a Castro-picture for the newspaper and returned the rest. Korda liked the Che picture and put it on the wall in his Havana-studio. The photo was unknown until Korda gave a copy to an Italian visitor in 1967 (see below). When Guevara died soon after, the Italian quickly began distributing the picture.
The corpse of Che Guevara was hardly cold in Bolivia, before you could buy big posters, all around the world, with the Korda-image of Che. Feltrinelli copyright it. Korda told me, that in half a year, Feltrinelli sold 2.ooo.ooo posters.- Alberto Kortda
The photo, for which Korda never received royalties, eventually adorned every self-respecting student radical’s dorm and was reproduced on millions of T-shirts, posters, key-rings and banners around the globe. The image that went to become perhaps “the most famous image of the 20th century” never produced any money to Alberto Korda, not a peny.
The Washington Post has published online some of historical images of the work of Alberto Korda “Cuba by Korda”. The work was also published in a book few months ago. If it happen that you speak spanish, you may be interested in reading an interview with Alberto Korda here. If you like to know the more of the story read below.
The 5th of March 1960 the Belgian arms transport “La Coubre” exploded in Havana harbour, killing 136 people. As a staff-photographer at the Cuban newspaper “Revolution”, Alberto “Korda” Gutierrez was assigned to cover the following memorial ceremony held in Havana. Among the prominent guests were Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Fidel Castro held one of his endless speeches and Korda was shooting away, when Che Guevara suddenly appeared on the stage. Korda pointed his Leica at Che and managed to make two shots of him, before Che turned around and disappeared.
Back in his darkroom Korda enlarged, among others, one of the Che frames. The editor at “Revolution” picked a Castro-picture for the newspaper and returned the rest. Korda liked the Che picture and put it on the wall in his Havana-studio.
The picture was still hanging on the wall in 1967, by now tobacco-tinted though, when a man knocked on the door. The person did not present himself, but handed over a letter of introduction from a high-ranking member of the Cuban administration. The letter asked Korda to help this person in his search for a good Che picture. Korda pointed at the wall saying: “This is my best Che picture”. The visitor agreed and asked for 2 copies of the print. Korda told him to return the next day, which he did. When asked the price of the prints, Korda replied, that since the visitor was a friend of the revolution, he didn’t have to pay.
What Korda didn’t know, was that the visitor was the famous Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Well known in Europe for smuggling the “Dr. Zivago” manuscript out of The Soviet Union. Feltrinelli came to Cuba directly from Bolivia, where he had been negotiating the release of Regis Debray. Having learnt from Debray, that Che Guevara was the guerrilla-leader in Bolivia and that the end might be near, Feltrinelli saw a business opportunity in the possible assassination of Che.
The corpse of Che Guevara was hardly cold in Bolivia, before you could buy big posters, all around the world, with the Korda-image of Che. Copyright Feltrinelli it said, down in the corner. Korda told me, that in half a year, Feltrinelli sold 2.ooo.ooo posters. Later on the image has been transformed, transplanted, transmitted and transfigured all over the world.
Korda never received a penny. For one reason only – Cuba had not signed the Berne Convention. Fidel Castro described the protection of intellectual property as imperialistic “bullshit”.
The Cuban photographer was in the headlines few years ago when he won an out-of-court settlement and was paid about $50,000 from a British ad agency to settle a dispute over the use of his famed picture of Guevara in a Smirnoff vodka campaign.
“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 throughout the world, but I am categorically against the exploitation of Che’s image for the promotion of products such as alcohol, or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che”-Korda
Korda, who lived in Havana, gave the money for children’s medicines.
“If Che was still alive, he would have done the same”-Korda
Korda never objected to mass use of his photo as a protest symbol, but in recent years he began to fight its commercial reproduction in ways he said “dishonored” his subject.