Che Guevara by René Burri, Cuba 1963
Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction

Che Guevara by René Burri, Cuba 1963

This photo, shot by the Swiss photographer René Burri, immortalized the proud, Havana-cigar-smoking Che Guevara and became an visual icon of the immortal revolutionary after his murder by the Bolivian army in 1967, although the magazine Look only reproduced a small version at the very end of the feature, no less than 12 pages long, in its edition of April 9, 1963. This vintage print is one of only 15 produced shortly after the photograph was taken.

Four years after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Magnum Photos sent René Burri to Cuba to take photographs of Ernesto “Che” Guevara during an interview for the widely-circulated American magazine Look. As President of the National Bank and Minister of Industry, Che Guevara was the second most powerful man in Cuba and had personally invited the American star journalist Laura Bergquist to the Sugar Island so that she could form her own opinion about the success of the revolution. In retrospect, Burri would describe the atmosphere of the conversation between Che and the reporter with her provocative questions as “tense”.

Right at the start, Che denied Burri his request to open the blinds to improve the lighting situation in the room. Furthermore, he would not deign to look at Burri during the six-hour interview, during which the photographer exposed six rolls of film. Later, Burri recalled the genesis of his most famous shot: “I could expose all of his characteristics: charm, power of persuasion and anger. But he did not look into the camera one single time.”

Reference:

  1. L. Bergquist, “Most revealing Report on Cuba since the missile Crisis”, in: Look, April 9, 1963, p. 27;
  2. W. Manchester (ed.), In our Time. The world as seen by Magnum, London 1989, p.287;
  3. Hans-Michael Koetzle (ed.), René Burri. Fotografien, Berlin 2003, p. 226-224;
  4. Hans-M. Koetzle (ed.), Photo-Icons 1827-1991, Cologne 2005, p. 264f.;
  5. Saul Corrales/Carlos T. Cairo (eds.), Che Guevara. By the Photographers of the Cuban Revolution, Havana 2006, p. 115;
  6. Carlos T. Cairo et al. (eds.), René Burri. Un Mondo, Valencia 2007, p. 59;
  7. Kirsten Lubben (ed.), Magnum Contact Sheets, Munich 2011, p. 142-143.