Why is che guevara such a pop culture icon?

the fresh face - the iconic nature of that design is not only due to how it graphically portrays che...

it has become a piece of pop art really. he didn’t even really look like that.
he never normally wore that hat...

this is cuba for the people ...

its first place in our cultural lexicon is undeniable.

rather than something that really signifies a desire to become some kind of revolutionary,
the che guevara logo is the image, which represents change (and its appeal has not faded).

pop culture remains timeless. che was the outsider that we all wish we could have been.
and he came to symbolize the counter-culture rebel, willing to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of his ideals.

he preached his message of peace, and they killed him.
his image will never die, his name will never die.

you very rarely see political leaders on t-shirts, unless they are dead and bearded...
and che was looking better than mao or lenin.
combining capitalism and commerce, religion and revolution, the icon remains unchallenged.

well, he rode a motorbike, like in that film...

the most famous photograph in the world.
it rivalled the mona lisa as perhaps the most replicated image ever.

image © cindy karp/people magazine 2000

who produced the original emblematic che image?
it is based on a photograph by alberto diaz gutierrez, who adopted the surname 'korda'.
alberto korda captured his famous frame on 5 march 1960 during a mass funeral in havana.
a day earlier, a french cargo ship loaded with ammunition had exploded in the city's harbour,
killing some 80 cubans. korda was fidel's official photographer and
he describes che's expression in the picture, which he labelled 'guerrillero heroico' as
'encabronadao y dolente' - angry and sad. the picture was one of only two frames taken.
the original shot includes palm fronds and a man facing che, both subsequently cropped out.

unpublished for a year, the picture was seen only by those who passed through
korda's studio, where it hung on a wall and where the leftist italian publisher and intellectual,
giangiacomo feltrinelli, discovered it. korda gave two eight-by-10 cm prints of it as a gift to feltrinelli
allowing him to republish it, and when che guevara was killed a few months later, in 1967,
he distributed posters across italy. feltrinelli used the other print for the cover of the book
'diario del che in bolivia'.

korda's photograph made an appearance in several european magazines.
che's death was followed by demonstrations, first in milan and then elsewhere.
very soon afterwards there was the prague spring and may '68 in france.
europe was in turmoil. korda himself received little recognition at the time.
in 1999, he appeared in the pre-title sequence of german wim wenders's documentary
buena vista social club, rifling through photos from the heroic early days.
'here is guevara, for example, playing golf with castro' - 'who won? - 'fidel, because che let him.'
for some reason, both, mr. feltrinelli and mr.wenders fail to credit korda.

che guevara on the 3 cuban pesos bill

although he kept the negative and the camera with which he took the photo,
he never received any royalties for the use of that image.
see more photos by alberto korda

'hot fiery - bloody smirnoff' ad

alberto korda was happy to see his photo used as a revolutionary banner,
but when a vodka company, smirnoff, used it in a british advertisement he asked the cuba solidarity
campaign to help him sue smirnoff's advertising agency, lowe lintas, and the picture library,
rex reatures, for infringement.
'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,'
korda said in the autumn of 2000. '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.'
che guevara never drank smirnoff, and korda won an out-of-court settlement of about $50,000,
which he donated to the cuban medical system.
alberto korda dies in may 2001.

revolutionary marketing 'inversion americana en cuba'
artwork © by patrick thomas ilenĂ³

we live in a culture today where understanding symbols doesn't necessary matter.
the new documentary 'chevolution' examines this image and why it means oh so much to us.
the world premiere of 'chevolution' was at the new york tribeca film festival in may 2008.


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