The Korda Photograph
Among those at the memorial service on March 5, 1960, for the victims of the explosion on the freighter La Coubre in Havana harbor, was Fidel Castro’s friend, photographer Alberto Diaz Gutiérrez known as Korda. He took a number of photographs of the event with his 90 mm Leica. Two of them were head and shoulder shots of Che Guevara who had at one point in the event stepped forward from the group surrounding Castro on the platform.
Korda later described taking the photograph. “At the foot of the podium draped in black crepe, my eye pressed to my old Leica. I was focussing on Fidel and the people around him. Suddenly, through the 90 mm lens, Che loomed above me. I was surprised by his look . . . by reflex I snapped twice, one horizontal shot and one vertical. I didn’t have enough time to take a third photo, as he stepped back discreetly into the second row.”
The editor of the newspaper Revolución chose to publish one of Korda’s pictures of Fidel and one of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and returned the proof sheet to the photographer. (Korda’s proof sheet of the ceremonies on March 5, 1960)
Korda worked as Castro’s personal photographer for 10 years after the revolution. Among his pictures were ones of Castro and Che fishing, Che chatting with Sartre and de Beauvoir, Castro and Ernest Hemmingway, and Castro golfing.
In 1967 the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli visited Cuba. He had a record of publishing not only important contemporary literature but also the writings of revolutionaries. An activist, Feltrinelli travelled to third world countries to meet with guerilla fighters. He tried to track down Che in Bolivia but was expelled from the country.
In Cuba Feltrinelli met Korda and asked him for a picture of Che. Korda gave him the image he had taken in 1960. (Photograph of Korda with his pictures of Che) He did not ask for any payment as he regarded Feltrinelli as a fellow revolutionary. On returning to Italy, Feltrinelli printed copies of the photograph in attempt to make known the difficult situation that the hero of the Cuban revolution was then facing in Bolivia. After Che’s execution in Bolivia in 1967 Feltrinelli published Che’s Bolivian Diary, given to him by Fidel. On the cover he printed the Korda photograph of Che.
The Italian publisher is believed to have supplied the gun which the Bolivian revolutionary, Monika Ertl, used on April 1, 1971 to assassinate Colonel Roberto Quintanilla in Hamburg, Germany. Quintanilla had been involved in the campaign against Che in Bolivia and was the man who gave the order to have Che’s hands cut from his corpse.
The Korda photograph which came to be called Guerrillero Heroico was reproduced in Paris Match in August of 1967. The image spread like wildfire around the world and became an icon for the many revolutionary groups that sprang up in the late 1960’s. In 1967, Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick created a series of psychedelic posters based on the Korda photograph and these were copied and reproduced worldwide. Fitzpatrick had a special interest in Che as he met and talked with him in 1963 in a pub in Kilkee, Ireland.