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Alberto Korda - Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez - Cuban Photographer

El Che - Che Guevara - Guerrillero Heroico

The photographer that became really famous for just one picture was Alberto Korda - Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez . The most recognised picture in the history of photography is the very famous image of Che Guevara that became the symbol of my generation and the others that came after.Korda was born in Cuba. He took the photograph in Havana on 5 March 1960 at the memorial service for 136 men killed when a Belgian ship carrying arms blew up in Havana harbour. Castro appeared first on the balcony to salute the mass of people, then Che Guevara appeared. Korda managed to snap two frames of the guerilla leader with a look of noble anger on his face. The picture was called Guerrillero Heroico because of Guevara's intense dreamy expression. The newspaper he worked for, Revolution, turned down the picture. But he kept it hanging in his bathroom for seven years until an Italian Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (the publisher best known for having smuggled Pasternak's manuscript of Dr Zhivago out of the Soviet Union) asked Korda for a photo of the Che Guevara. Korda would accept no payment, as the man was a fellow revolutionary. Feltrinelli had just come from Bolivia where he was trying to negotiate the release of Regis Debray from prison. Debray was a French Markist fighting with the insurgents led by Guevara. Feltrinelli, who was looking for an image to use as the cover of a biography that he was thinking of writing about El Che. (As he was known by Gato Barbieri, from Argentina like El Che, that I used to see in the 60s and talk all the time about El Che. I have a site on Gato Barbieri, the jazz musician, where you can see beautiful photos of us together. Go to http://www. verinhaottoni. com/gianniamico). Two months later El Che was dead and Feltrinelli had Korda's negative printed up as a poster and in six months sold millions of copies as an emblem of youthful protest and discontent. It was posted up in student accommodations around the world. Korda never got a penny from his photograph because Castro never signed the Berne Convention that regulates worldwide rights to intellectual property. However, in 2001 Korda managed to file some claims over his image and had his copyright confirmed by the High Court in London, so he could prevent Smirnoff from using his photo to promote vodka; what Korda considered an insult. Korda said that neither he nor his hero Che Guevara ever drank and that the photo he had entitled Guerillero Heroico was his own work. Guevara was executed by the Bolivian army on 8 October 1967 and also became a symbol of revolution on the student barricades in Paris 1968. This picture of Guevara hangs on office blocks, hotel lobbies, shops, cafes in the old city of Havana, also on watches, postcards and beer-mats and a giant poster looms in the Plaza de la Revolution in Havana. In 1977, the 30th anniversary of his death, Guevara's remains were found in Bolivia and taken for reburial in Cuba.

Alberto Diaz Gutierrez was born in Havana on 14 September 1928, the same year as Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna, born in Argentina. He took photos of poverty and social injustice and always brought his camera along, even during his studies (he got a degree in journalism) and whilst working. In 1956 he and a friend opened a studio and named it after the Hungarian film directors, Alexander and Zoltan Korda, because they liked their work very much. The name Korda had the advantage of sounding like KODAK. In two years time, he was the best-known photographer on the island and the first to use a Cuban model to show off Cuban clothes, shooting in natural light.

When Castro overthrew the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Korda and his mentor became the principal chroniclers of events, documenting the revolution. From 1961 until 1968 Korda was Castro's personal photographer, accompanying him and Guevara to the jungle or the golf course with El Che in 1959 and to Moscow in 1962. His famous picture El Jefe is of Castro gazing out over the Sierra Maestra, with a rifle over his shoulder, which was used on the propaganda images of the revolution. He also took photographs of the famous people that came to visit Castro such as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

In 1970 Korda visited Feltrinelli in Milan. They did not talk about the photograph from which Feltrinelli made a fortune, because Korda gave him the prints without any conditions. Korda said "But if he had paid me just one lira for each reproduction, we would have received millions. But I still forgive him, because by doing what he did he made it famous. "I don't!!! It was disgusting that he did not give any money to Korda. I was living in Italy when Feltrinelli blew himself up whilst engaged in terrorist activities. He was trying to blow the electricity power station up but the bomb went off and blew him up!!It was a huge surprise for the establishment to find out that such a rich man could be engaged in terrorism. Feltrinelli died leaving a wife and son; his wife took a charge of the Feltrinelli publishing companies. Korda said, after winning the rights to the picture that had made him so famous, "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 the Che's image for promotion of alcohol or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che. "Korda got $50,000 from the court settlement and he used the money to pay for medicines to help children in Cuba. Cuba has more doctors per head of population that any other except Israel. (The UK should bring some to work here. Cuba struggles to import medicines because of the American trade embargo. )

Korda visited London in 1997. On BBC he was the subject of the Decisive Moments program and at the National Theatre in 2000 he had an exhibition of Cuban photography. On 25 May 2001 he was in Paris for a similar exhibition where he died at the age of 72. He will forever be remembered for one single picture, but he also played an important role in developing a distinctive school of Cuban photography. If you asked him about the black-and-white that he had mostly used for his photographs he explained that Cubans were handicapped when it came to colour. "We have no real laboratory here, no Cibachrome facilities. It's bad. We are isolated and forced to look at our culture, in colour anyway, through the eyes of our foreign cousins. Cuba is not glossy, it's real. "He took memorable pictures of the Pope's visit to Cuba in 1998 and the most beautiful picture El Quijote da la Farola, in 1959. It was taken during the revolution; it shows a peasant farmer who has climbed to the top of a lamppost, from where he surveys the crowd below with aristocratic dignity, cigarette in his hand, listening to a speech by Castro. Customary to being a Cuban male, Korda had six or seven wives - he said, "I can't remember exactly" - five children and countless lovers. At the time of his death he was living in Havana in Miramar suburb with two caged birds and a housekeeper for company!!!


Verinha Ottoni.




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