Che is No Logo

Jay Moore research at
Mon Aug 7 21:57:58 MDT 2000

After 40 years and millions of posters, Che's photographer sues for

Matt Wells, media correspondent
The Guardian (UK)
Monday August 7, 2000

Che Guevara's appearance at the front of a makeshift platform at a memorial
service in Havana lasted just a few moments. But in that short time the
newspaper photographer Alberto Diaz Gutierrez managed to capture the essence
of the Latin American revolutionary with such perfection that his messianic
image became a 20th-century icon and the pin-up of rebellious students
around the world.

Gutierrez, better known as Alberto Korda, is delighted that his photograph
has inspired socialist revolutionaries for more than three decades. But the
appropriation of the image for an advertising campaign by the promoters of
Smirnoff vodka has spurred him into taking action to reassert his
intellectual rights. For not only was Guevara an opponent of the sort of
imperial capitalism practised by an international drinks firm, Korda says,
he was also near teetotal.

In what is expected to be a landmark copyright case, Korda is suing the
advertising agency that developed the campaign for "spicy" vodka, the
London-based Lowe Lintas (formerly Lowe Howard-Spink), and the picture
agency that supplied the image, Rex Features. If the case is not settled
before the suit is heard, it will come before the high court in London next

Korda, now 71 and still living in Cuba, may travel to give evidence. "I was
offended by the use of the image," he said. "To use the image of Che Guevara
to sell vodka is a slur on his name and memory. He never drank himself, he
was not a drunk and drink should not be associated with his immortal

In his claim to the high court, he accuses the advertising firm of
trivialising the historical significance of the photograph by overprinting
it with a hammer and sickle motif, in which the sickle was a chilli pepper.

Korda will have to prove that the picture was, in fact, taken by him. The
London-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which is supporting him, believes his
case is strong: Korda still has the camera with which he took the picture,
and the negative.

Lowe Lintas and Rex Features have declined to comment, but it is thought
they will seek to argue that no one owns the copyright to the picture
because it has been used so extensively and, in effect, is in the public

The picture was taken on March 5 1960 at a memorial service for more than
100 crew members of a Belgian arms cargo ship, killed in an attack for which
Cuba blamed counter-revolutionary forces aided by the US. Korda was assigned
to cover the ceremony, whose guests included Simone de Beauvoir and
Jean-Paul Sartre.

"Che was standing on the row behind Fidel [Castro] on the platform," said
Korda. "You couldn't see him. Then suddenly he stepped forward to the edge
of the platform. I was standing below.

"I saw him step forward with this absolute look of steely defiance as Fidel
spoke. It was only a brief moment that I had. I managed to shoot two frames
and then he was gone."

Korda's newspaper was more interested in his pictures of Castro, but the
photographer liked the image of Guevara and hung it on the wall in his
Havana studio.

Seven years later, and now yellowed by tobacco smoke, the picture was still
on the wall when an Italian publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, called,
brandishing a letter of introduction from a senior official in the Cuban
administration asking Korda for a copy. Korda handed the visitor two prints,
declining to make a charge.

Guevara was killed a few months later and was immediately hailed a martyr to
the revolution. There are conflicting stories of how the photograph came to
gain such currency, but it became a rallying image in the student revolts in
Paris of 1968, and Feltrinelli was quick to capitalise on its value. Of the
millions of posters featuring the image that appeared around the world,
some, Korda has said, even bore the notice "copyright Feltrinelli". Yet
Korda does not bear a grudge against the enterprising publisher. "I still
forgive him because by doing what it did he made it famous."

Undoubtedly it was the picture's iconic status that appealed to the
advertising agency and, in good faith, it sourced the image from Rex, a
reputable picture agency, for a billboard and magazine campaign last year.
But Korda was furious.

"Che was an example as a man and we are his example to the world right
now,"he said. "It is to honour his memory that I wish to have my right to
the image recognised. Like I said, it is a slur on his character that he
should be used to sell vodka."

Alberto Korda was interviewed for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign by Dr Stephen
Wilkinson. Requests to reproduce the image can be directed to the campaign,
on 020-7263 6452

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