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WestLicht Gallery Reconsiders Che Guevara in Photography Exhibit in Vienna
"Guerrillero Heróico". That's how Alberto Korda named his photograph of Che Guevara, which is the most reproduced in all times. An icon that is being shown at WestLicht Gallery in Vienna Austria. Photo: EFE / KORDA

VIENNA.- WestLicht Gallery takes the anniversary of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s birthday as an occasion to re-consider his photographic image in relation to the development of a mythos.

At the centre there is the most often reproduced photograph in the world. It is the portrait of Che Guevara made by the Cuban photographer Alberto Korda at the beginning of March 1960 during one of Fidel Castro’s rallies: an attractive man in a heroic pose, his gaze steadfastly fixed on a point in the distance. Because of his violent death, his philosophy of life as a convinced revolutionary and this photo Che Guevara became a pop icon of the 68 generation within a very short time. Korda’s portrait took on an independent life, becoming a brand name and attaining a cult status that remains unbroken even today.

In the 60s and 70s Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, known as Che (friend), who was born on the 14th of June became the symbol of the revolutionary left – or for those who passed themselves off as such. He belonged to the small group that landed with Fidel Castro in 1956 and, in a two year long guerrilla war, toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista. “Comandante Che” who has already become a legend during his own life was a medical doctor, suffered from asthma and was a passionate cigar smoker. At 31 he was made president of the National Bank and then Minister of Industry. His attempt to “export” the revolution failed however. His execution in Bolivia on the 9th of October 1967 made him a legend once and for all.

The pictures that will be shown are of the Batista era, of successful revolution on up to Che Guevarra’s death and his transformation into a legend. The exhibition attempts to clarify why, even today, the Cuban Revolution and its protagonists continue to exert such a fascination. The pictures that have come down to us are reminiscent of still from an adventure film and the revolutionaries seem like film stars. The scenes tell of intrepid heroes, death and transfiguration. Additionally photos from Korda’s works that have never been shown before provide insight into his oeuvre both before and after the revolution.

Starting from Alberto Korda’s original print, the icon of all Guevara depictions, the exhibition will be showing mainly vintage prints by Cuban and internationally recognised photographers including Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, René Burri and anonymous photographers of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and their comrades-in-arms.

The main the exhibition will consist of loans from Christian Skrein, Alfred Weidinger and the WestLicht photo collection.

Korda was born in 1928, the same year as Che Guevara. He died in May 2001 while attending one of his many exhibitions round the world, in Paris. The life of the photographer reflected the transformation that the revolution effected in Cuban society. Korda was a fashion and public relations photographer in pre-revolution Cuba. In an interview he gave Pacifica Radio in 2000, Korda said that "the beauty of women was the first expression of my photography". He said that while publicity photography brought him more money, he enjoyed fashion photography more. In fact, Korda went on to marry one of Cuba's famous models. He is said to have named his studio Korda because it sounded like Kodak, the photographic products company; however, according to another version, he liked the name because he admired the film director, Alexander Korda.

The revolution turned his career in a completely different direction. Korda said he "fell in love with the Revolution and its heroes". He photographed Fidel Castro's entrance into Havana in January 1959, with Camillo Cienfuegos, another notable Cuban revolutionary, by his side. Although Korda was not a photojournalist then, he took this picture to Revolucion, the newspaper of the Cuban revolutionaries, which published it. Four months later, Revolucion asked Korda to accompany Fidel on his first trip abroad after the revolution, to Venezuela. Commenting on his relationship with Fidel, Korda said it was "distant at first, but I was very happy to photograph what I loved — and still love — the Revolution and Fidel".

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