|Cuba's 'Che' Photographer Korda Dies in Paris
Friday May 25, 2001 5:05 PM ET
By Andrew Cawthorne HAVANA (Reuters)
Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, whose 1960 shot of Latin American guerrilla legend Ernesto "Che'' Guevara became an icon for would-be revolutionaries round the world, died Friday in France aged 72. His daughter, Norka Korda, told Reuters from her Havana home that her father died of a heart attack in Paris where an exhibition of his work was being shown.
"He was such a fun person. We have good memories,'' she said.
Fellow Cuban photographers paid immediate tribute to a man who began taking fashion pictures but then joined a small group of young photographers tracking the early years of President Fidel Castro's government after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The shot of Guevara staring defiantly from under his black beret at a 1960 funeral in Havana which Korda named "The Heroic Guerrilla'' was the defining moment of his career and the emblematic image of Cuba's revolutionary process.
"I was about 8 or 10 meters (yards) from the tribune where Fidel Castro was speaking. ... Suddenly I noticed that Che was approaching the railing,'' Korda said, describing later how he had only a brief glimpse of Guevara during the funeral rally. Remarkably, the photo was rejected for publication by Korda's newspaper, Revolucion, in favor of pictures of Castro and French writers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The photo was unknown until Korda gave a copy to an Italian visitor in 1967. When Guevara died soon after, the Italian quickly began distributing the picture. 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. "Of the whole revolutionary process, this is the photo which achieved most international magnitude,'' said Cuban photographer Rafael Perez, who knew Korda. "HE WILL BE MISSED''.
Korda was part of a select group of photographers who covered the early years of the Cuban Revolution. Lately, however, he was not practicing much. The Cuban photographer was in the headlines last year 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. Korda, who lived in Havana, gave the money for children's medicines. "If Che was still alive, he would have done the same,'' Korda told Reuters then. 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.
Argentine-born Guevara became a popular hero in Cuba after helping lead Castro's rebel army to victory. Sealing his mythic status, he died in 1967 in an abortive attempt to sow Cuban-style revolt in Bolivia. The young Korda, whose real name was Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, got his first taste of photography when he took his father's Kodak 35 and began taking pictures of his girlfriend. After the Cuban revolution, he accompanied Castro on trips and in meetings with foreign personalities. Other less-known but perhaps equally striking photos by Korda include shots of Castro staring warily at a tiger in a New York zoo, playing golf and fishing with Guevara, skiing and hunting in Russia, and with U.S. author Ernest Hemingway. Away from the personalities, Korda's work also includes some remarkable pictures of Castro's rebels riding into Havana after their triumph, and one known as "The Quixote of the Lamp Post'' showing a Cuban wearing a straw hat and sitting on a lamp post against a sea of people during a mass rally.