Alberto Korda

Alberto Korda is the pseudonym of Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, a Cuban born photographer who had many odd jobs before becoming an assistant photographer, allegedly, "to meet women". Indeed it seems he succeeded in his ambition as his first wife became the first Cuban supermodel.

In the 1950s he and another photographer opened a photography studio together and he chose a new name for himself - Korda - and began to build his reputation through the use of natural light to photograph fashion models.

In 1953, the Cuban revolution began on 26 July with a successful armed revolt by by Fidel Castro which overthrew the US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1st January 1959, after over five years of struggle.

Above: "Guerrillero Heroico", 1960 - Che Guevara at the La Coubre Memorial Service

After the revolution, Alberto Korda became the personal photographer to Fidel Castro. He was also a photographer for the Cuban newspaper Revolución when, on 6th March 1960, he took the famous photograph of Che Guevara at the funeral of victims of the bombing of the ship La Coubre.

Korda was about 10 meters away from where Castro was giving a speech and suddenly he saw Che emerging from the bottom of a nearby platform looking angry to the point of rage. Korda pressed the shutter release once and there and then captured the iconic photograph of Che Guevara, rebel and hero of the people, eventually to become martyr and victim to the cause.

Above: The original, uncropped version of Korda's photograph

On 9th October, 1967, Bolivian President René Barrientos ordered that Guevara be killed. Subsequently, the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli went to Korda's studio to enquire about pictures of Che and Korda gave him the famous photo.

Feltrinelli printed Alberto Korda's picture on a poster one meter by 70 centimeters, and it is said to have sold a million copies in six months. The image then started to be used by anyone and everyone including Smirnoff to promote vodka. Korda didn't mind that he didn't have copyright on the photograph but he was unhappy about the Smirnoff advert.

Left: Korda holding the famous photograph - source: Museo Che Guevara (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara en La Habana, Cuba)

He said: "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 Che's image to promote products such as alcohol, or for any other purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che."

He won a lawsuit and compensation of $50,000 which he gave to the Cuban medical system because he said: "If Che was still alive, he would have done the same thing." 

Below is another photo of Alberto Korda in front of his famous snapshot and holding a three Cuban Peso banknote, which also bears Che Guevara's photo.

Above photo - source: Museo Che Guevara (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara en La Habana, Cuba)

Between 1968 and 1978, Korda began to devote himself to underwater photography. He died of a heart attack in Paris in 2001, while presenting an exhibition of his work, and is buried in Colon Cemetery in Havana. 

Recommended Reading

Originally published in France, Cuba by Korda, gives an overview of his extraordinary camerawork, including some quirky and less well-known photos, such as Castro warily eyeing a tiger at the Bronx zoo and Che Guevara playing golf.

The proof strip of the roll of film from which the famous shot of Che was taken is also reproduced, including Korda's photos of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who were visiting Cuba and which were published at the time, not the photo of Che! 

Korda liked the photo and stuck it on his wall until Feltrinelli spotted it and took it home.

› Alberto Korda

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