When Cuban photographer Alberto Korda snapped two shots of Che Guevara at a memorial service in Havana on 5 March 1960 his photographs were initially lost among thousands taken of the charismatic revolutionary leader. For seven years Korda’s preferred image of the 31-year-old, known as Guerrillero Heroico (Heroic Guerrilla), remained largely unknown. But with Guevara’s death in October 1967 the man became a legend, and the photograph followed suit.
As the image began to be reproduced in the media and distributed in poster format, the burgeoning cult of Che inspired artists to use the photograph as the basis for new works of art. In 1967 Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick produced a stylised poster based on Korda’s image which quickly became a hot commodity. Fitzpatrick’s poster would spawn countless other appropriations and tributes. In one instance the image was even reproduced in a 1968 painting attributed to Andy Warhol. Although it was later revealed as a forgery produced by Warhol’s collaborator, Gerard Malanga, Warhol agreed to authenticate the fake provided he received the proceeds from its sale.
The image is now considered to be the most reproduced in the history of photography. Yet as it has become ever more commercialised, it has drifted further from the spirit of its subject.
Image: Top – Alberto Korda, Guerrillero Heroico, 1960; Middle – Jim Fitzpatrick, original stylized image of Che Guevara, 1968; Bottom – Gerard Malanga, Che Guevara in the style of Andy Warhol, 1968.