In 1960, photographer Alberto Korda snapped a photograph of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Guevara, who went by the name Che. Fifty-six years later, the photograph, cropped into a portrait, is everywhere. Che campaigned against capitalism, and he never liked having his picture made, yet his face has been used for everything from government buildings to political posters (promoting any and all views) to advertisements to dorm room posters to currency.
In this era of anything-goes globalization, Che doesn’t really stand for anything partly because he stands for so much. Once a symbol of a society struggling toward the ultimate abolishment of money—during the 1960s at least three communal experiments were launched in the Cuban countryside to achieve this goal—Korda’s Che has now been converted into its own form of capitalist currency: a cool knickknack or keepsake, a pin or poster or touristy T-shirt. When the Rolling Stones performed in Havana’s Sports City this year (provocatively, on Good Friday), Korda’s Che welcomed “their satanic majesties” from the audience in his usual heroic form, except for the big, fat, redder-than-ever Rolling Stone tongue protruding from his mouth. And you can bet that tongue came thanks to a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop.
People have made money from the image all around the world, yet the little that photographer Korda received was the result of lawsuits. And Wikipedia has a long explanation of why the photo is now in the public domain. Read the story of how the photograph was taken, why it wasn't used for the project at the time, and what happened since then, at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: Alberto Korda)