Sunday, October 7, 2007

Che Guevara: from revolutionary to commercial icon

Commercial interest and advertising companies have systematically appropriated and transformed symbols of protest, while robbing them of their original content and meaning.

The most glaring instance is a snap of Ernesto "Che" Guevara taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, which inspired Jim Fitzpatrick, an Irish artist, to make pictures of the revolutionary, based on that photograph.

The iconic snap and the pictures have Che Guevara in his long hair and beard, sporting his beret with a single star on it - a picture not many would have missed.

Guevara was executed by the Bolivian Army on October 9, 1967. A number of Latin American countries plan memorials this week in his honour.

In the west the pictures have been used as a decoration for products from tissues to underwear, reports the BBC. With time Che Guevara the image and Che the revolutionary got separated.

Ironically, the widespread commercial use of the pictures is partly due to a decision by Fitzpatrick not to take a copyright on his poster.

The poster, produced by Fitzpatrick under his own imprint in 1968, achieved worldwide circulation and he was quite famous as a result. But because he made the image copyright-free, he earned nothing from it personally, nor did he wish to, Fitzpatrick is quoted as saying on his web site.

As for the original photo by Korda, he allowed it to be used without charging for royalties because he thought that the more the picture spread, the more would Che Guevara’s ideals.

But in 2000, 40 years after he took the picture, he sued an advertising agency, and the company that supplied the photograph for use in an advertisment for a vodka brand, according to Famous Pictures: The Magazine.

To use the image of Che Guevara to sell vodka was a slur on his name and memory, as he never drank himself, he was not a drunk, and drink should not be associated with his immortal memory, Korda told the media according to this report. He was able to affirm his ownership of the photo and won an out-of-court settlement of US$50,000, which he donated to the Cuban medical system, according to Famous Pictures: The Magazine.

Related articles:

Thoughts on Che Guevara and the cruelty of capitalism

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