In 1963, his image of Cuban Comandante Che Guevara inadvertently created a brand that a myriad of uprisings and revolutions subsequently adapted to their purposes.

“Two years after having stupidly missed the revolution in Cuba because I was away skiing with my family, I received a call from Magnum. They said: Burri, you are going to Cuba. So, on New Year’s Eve, I travelled by train to Prague via Vienna and, from there, flew in a Russian Ilyushin to Cuba.”

Burri had been commissioned by “Look” magazine to shoot the pictures for an interview they were doing with Che Guevara, the number two man of the Cuban revolution. “The blond American reporter Laura (Bergquist) and the Comandante played cat and mouse for three whole hours – and I was caught in the middle. During the entire session, Che kept jumping up and down from his seat and pacing around his office. It was three hours of backbreaking work for me.”

”(…) I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front. I used up eight rolls of film. He didn’t look at me once, he was so engaged with trying to convince Laura with maps and graphs.”

One of the photographs made during that session has advanced to iconic status: an arrogant, self-assured Che puffing on a thick Havana cigar. After Che died and became a worldwide hero for antiestablishmentarianism, the image was stolen thousands and thousands of times to be reproduced on posters, flags, T-shirts, as well as watches, coffee mugs, and ashtrays. The brand “Che” became so prevalent that not even the photo agency Magnum Photos was able to stop the pictures from being lifted. (read more here and here)

#1: © René Burri, 1963, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Contact Sheet
#2: © René Burri, 1963, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara at Ministry of Industry, Havana
#3: © Gian Marco Castelberg, 2011, Portrait of René Burri

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