Guerrillero Heroico (pictured above) is probably the single most well-known photographs ever taken and is arguably one of the most recognisable images on the planet. Which makes it strange that the man who took the photo never earned a single penny from it.
To be clear, no one is exactly sure how much Guerrillero Heroico, taken by Korda in 1960 during a funeral Che was attending, is worth because at this point calculating exactly how many times the image has been used would require a calculator made from parts of Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair. However it’s universally agreed that if Alberto Korda had ever tried to seek any royalties or payment for the use of his image during his lifetime he would have lived out his final days as a Kanye level millionaire.
Seriously people have put this picture fucking everywhere; posters, t-shirts, jewellery, mugs, bags, wallets, shoes, iPhone cases, pillows, action figures, you name it, they’ve put Che’s face on it. If Korda had earned just one penny for every time this picture has been put on a cheap piece of plastic shit, he’d have had enough pennies to fill a swimming pool which he could then dive into like a more realistic Scrooge McDuck. However, Korda, being what we can only describe as a legend and possibly a hero, felt that allowing the picture and by association Che’s ideals and philosophy, to disseminate as far as possible was more important than monetary gain.
Korda was such a chill-ass dude that when an asshole called Giangiacomo Feltrinelli used the image and then claimed he’d taken it, he just smiled and thanks Feltrinelli for sharing his picture. Korda was just that much of a nice guy.
To talk about Feltrinelli and just how much of an asshole he was for a moment, when artist Jim Fitzpatrick first created this poster you’ve probably seen on at least one person’s wall:
Feltrinelli called him up and left a threatening message for not paying him royalties for use of the image. We should probably mention that Fitzpatrick distributed his version of the image for free and eventually signed over all rights to it to a children’s hospital in Cuba because unlike Feltrinelli, he wasn’t an unrepentant dickface.
Moving on, despite Che Guevara being a staunch Marxist and fervent supporter of communist ideals, his image has ironically gone on to become incredibly profitable with unscrupulous people no doubt making millions selling things with his likeness attached. Weirdly, despite also being a huge communist, Korda was surprisingly okay with people using what was essentially his image for commercial reasons because it still meant that people got to see it. In fact, the only time Korda ever got annoyed about a company using the image is when Smirnoff tried to use a stylised picture of Che on a bottle of spicy vodka, because Che didn’t drink.
Oddly, despite Korda being the man who took the fucking photo they were using, the advertising agency who picked the image tried to argue in court that it was actually in the public domain. While this was technically true, since the image was taken before Cuba officially recognised copyright laws the same way the US does, it was still a huge dick move. Thankfully sense prevailed and Korda was awarded $50,000 out of court by Smirnoff to shut up, money which he immediately donated to the Cuban healthcare system. Because as we’ve already mentioned, he didn’t care about money, he just didn’t like assholes.
Korda died in 2001, you can see a selection of his work and read an interview with him, here.