Ernesto Guevara: the icon and the man

Beyond the underlying image of the hero that has captivated millions of people in the world, there’s a vital exercise that has little or nothing to do with fashions and commercial tricks…

Was Alberto Díaz (Korda) aware, at the exact moment in which he focused and pressed the shutter that March 5, 1960, of the extraordinary iconicity of the picture he was taking from Che at the burial of the victims of La Coubre explosion?

Probably he wasn’t, although Che’s look, lost in the distance, the expression of suppressed and calm pain, the unconscious bet on the Argentinean hero, should have caught the attention of the photographer.

Korda had the privilege of being there and bearing witness. He was already an experienced photographer, an exceptional portraitist, and in the hasty whirlwind of those first years of the Revolution he was one of the main artists (because they were so, artists, regardless of the journalistic vocation that encouraged them) of the movement of heroic photography that bequeathed so many historic documents.

Some years later, when Ernesto Guevara consolidated himself as the great symbol and main referral of the fair rebelliousness of the peoples, the image came out to light, as a strong graphic expression of that ideal.

To many specialists, historians and critics, it’s the most famous picture and the main graphic icon of the 20th century. That celebrity owned a lot to the black and white version, with some modifications (the lonely star on the beret, for example), which began to be printed on posters, book covers and many other media since the late 60s.

A lot has been said about those circumstances, about the creative ups and downs that the image experienced, and that involve editors, artists, printers and, in some way, even the most exalted figure of pop art: Andy Warhol. There were dirty tricks and dishonest adjudications… but the truth is that Korda never claimed copyright, because he shared Che’s ideals and knew that his photo was the logo of the anti-imperialist struggle all over the world.

Certainly, the Heroic Guerrilla of Korda is a powerful representation of the hero’s romanticism and determination. His long and messy hair deprives it of its formality and norm. The intensity of the look provides it with certain air of divinity. There are thousands of excellent snapshots and portraits of Che (he was a very handsome and photogenic), but none rounds off the symbol.

However, while the image represented (and still represents) a dream and a hope of full emancipation for millions, for many others it is just a beautiful and empathic representation, detached from the ideological heritage that encourages it: unethical aesthetics, brand name.

Korda even had to confront the aim of using it as an image of a vodka brand. In times of the empire of visuality, it is urgent to signify this portrait, to fight the trends that empty it of political implications. Che is much more than his iconography, is much more than the expressive movement it has originated. He has nothing to do (and his biography amply demonstrates it) with the whims of the market.

Ernesto Guevara still has a lot to do, no matter how much utopic his endeavors may look. May this image contribute and not distract.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

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