What Do Che Guevaras Iconic Photos Really Say About Him?

The story behind the face that led a revolutionary movement

A biography can be filled with interesting facts about someone but an image can bring them to life. Photographs remind us the legitimacy of historic events while also immortalizing our heroes forever. One leader whose photographs became a symbol of strength, justice, and revolution, was Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna. And even though he was not a fashion icon, or even intended to become a pop culture reference, he was being constantly chased by photographers throughout his life. Here is a look at his most famous photographs.

The portrait of him taken by former fashion photographer Alberto Korda at the funeral of La Coubre on March 5, 1960, has been printed so many times that it competes with the Mona Lisa and Marilyn Monroe's white dress photograph. Yet, the headshot of strength and power that we all know about, was captured during a moment of pain, frustration, and grief.

La Coubre was a french ship that delivered ammunitions to Cuban revolutionaries. It caused over a hundred casualties at the port of the Havana after it exploded. In a moment of tragedy, desolation, and indignation, Korda’s lens came across Che’s face while trying to obtain a cover picture for the Revolución newspaper during the funeral for the victims. As Fidel Castro gave his speech, in which he blamed the CIA for attempting to sabotage their efforts to overthrow their government, Korda focused on the staring-death face of Che and captured the immortal symbol of the revolution. Thinking about that moment, in which Che stared at the nothingness while contemplating the sadness and pain brought to the families, we can't help but feel his sorrow.

Another interesting story of a photograph of Che is the one that was taken when Rene Burri, a Swiss photographer, accompanied reporter Laura Bergquist to an interview with the famous revolutionary on the eighth floor of Havana’s Hotel Riviera. After meeting Che at the United Nations in 1962, Bergquist managed to get an interview with him. Undisturbed by Burri’s presence, Che sat down, lit a cigar, and smoked it without looking directly at Burri’s lens. The moment was frozen in time as powerful, mysterious, and intellectual.   

The last pictures taken of him served as proof of his execution in the jungles of Bolivia. After Cuba, Che found a new mission, to help rebels against the government of René Barrientos Ortuño. Since many refused to believe the incident was actually true, pictures of his lifeless body were requested. In the images released in 1967, we see the body on a table surrounded by Bolivian soldiers. The government allowed the press to snap pictures of the body in order to print them worldwide.

Che was a med student one day, and the next he was sailing off to Cuba to aid the Castro brothers in their revolution. After a motorcycle trip through several American countries, he became a Marxist and anti-imperialist. The poverty and misery of the places motivated him to join the Castro brothers in their quest to free Cuba and other places. The lucky photographers who captured his image, became famous and often tell the stories they shared with him.