Posts Tagged ‘Che Guevara’
Iconic Photos continues its trek into the world of contact sheets.
A minor mission of a site such as Iconic Photos is to educate its readers; accordingly, we have written about various aspects of photography, from its master practitioners to its use and abuse to lately, a year-long look at contact sheets. Many, including great photographers, believe contact sheets reveal more about a situation than an individual frame.
But, to coin a phrase, everything lies. Even photographs. Even contact sheets.
Look closely at the following contact sheet by René Burri, featuring a famous photo of Che Guevara. At the first glance, it seems to be single sequence but it is, in fact, a composite of different negatives from different cameras using different lenses.
Each week at the Magnum offices in Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson would review the contact sheets submitted by younger photographers returning from assignments. It was a daunting experience, not least because Cartier-Bresson had a peculiar way of critiquing, where he would rotate the contact sheet slowly, looking at it upside down and from all possible angles, studying the composition and scrutinizing the content.
René Burri realized that with Che’s pictures, the critique would be more incisive than ever (Cartier-Bresson himself was in Cuba for a Life assignment simultaneously with Burri, but was denied closer access to Che). Burri wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss a shot. He went on the assignment with three cameras, and submitted to his mentor a composite contact sheet. It was unclear whether Mr. Cartier-Bresson caught this sleight of hand.
In a Guardian interview from 2010, Mr. Burri remembers visiting Havana:
Laura Bergquist, a star reporter with Look magazine, had met Che Guevara at the UN in October 1962, after the Cuban missile crisis. She bugged him so much that he told her: “If you get permission from the CIA or the Pentagon, you are invited to Cuba, and I will show you what is really going on.” She got the green light from the Americans – and I went with her.
We arrived at Che’s office on the eighth floor of the Hotel Riviera in Havana. At that time he was the number-two man in Cuba – he was the minister for industry, and director of the Banco Nacional. His face was on the two peso note. I saw the blinds were drawn and, after we were introduced, I asked him in French: “Che, can I open the blinds? I need some light.” But he said no. I thought, well, it’s your face, not mine.
Immediately, Bergquist and Che started a furious ideological dogfight. She had to take back a story for the Americans, who were still angry about the revolution, and he was trying to convince her that what happened had to happen. For two and a half hours I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front. I used up eight rolls of film. He didn’t look at me once, he was so engaged with trying to convince her with maps and graphs. She was a chain-smoker, and he occasionally lit up one of his cigars.
We went back to New York, and Look ran a 16- or 20-page story. This picture was only an eighth of a page. It certainly wasn’t a photo essay, like the one Henri Cartier-Bresson did for Life magazine at the same time. He was in town with us, but only got to shoot Che at a press conference.
They uncovered his face, now clear and serene, and bared the chest wracked by 40 years of asthma and months of hunger in the wilds of the Bolivian southeast. Then they laid him out in the laundry room at the hospital of Nuestra Señora de Malta, raising his head so all could look upon the fallen prey. As they placed him on the concrete slab, they … asked the nurse to wash him, comb his hair, and trim the sparse beard. By the time journalists and curious townspeople began to file past, the metamorphosis was complete: the dejected, angry and disheveled man of the day before was now the Christ of Vallegrande … The Bolivian army had made its only field error after capturing its greatest war trophy. It had transformed the resigned and cornered revolutionary … into the magical image of life beyond death. His executioners had bestowed a human face upon the myth that would circle the world.”
Thus began Jorge Castañeda’s touching biography, “Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara“. After Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of the U.S. Marines on May 2nd, Time magazine invited him to write an essay on iconicity of death (link), which concludes:
We do know a lesson we learned nearly half a century ago, that the best way to avoid an effigy of martyrdom is to dispose of the material basis for it. But there is a downside to no face, no body and no picture: in the eyes of many, insufficient proof of death. Skepticism vs. glorification — not an easy choice.”
Che Guevara disappeared from the political scene in April 1965 and his whereabouts have been much debated since. His death has been reported several times during the past two-and-a-half years, in the Congo and in the Dominican Republic, but has never been proven. After leading communist insurrections in Guatemala, Cuba and Congo, Che Guevara’s next stop was Bolivia, where he was less than successful. On October 7 1967, his campsite was attacked, and Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner. He shouted “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” However, he refused to be interrogated and the Bolivian government decided to execute him, carefully orchestrating the execution to make sure that the bullet wounds appear consistent with the official story which stated that Che had been killed in action.
The day after his execution on October 10, 1967, Guevara’s body was then lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to nearby Vallegrande where photographs were taken, showing a figure described by some as “Christ-like” lying on a concrete slab in the laundry room of the Nuestra Señora de Malta hospital. The above iconic shot was taken by Freddy Alberto. After the photos, his hands were cut off, so that they could be taken to Buenos Aires for fingerprint identification. He was buried in an unmarked mass grave.
A parodic reenactment
AFP File Photo