The man who photographed the face of the Cuban Revolution.

Alberto Korda – The photojournalist.

Documentary photographers provide a window to the world recording historic events and figures that had influence over the course of modern history. Sometimes their images travel through international media carrying a powerful message. However, the masses seldom know their author.  Alberto Korda, born in Havana, is the Cuban photographer behind the iconic photograph of Che Guevara “Guerrillero Heroico (Heroic Guerrilla Fighter)” the world famous Marxist revolutionary from Argentina. [1]

Guerrillero Heroico, Alberto Korda
1. Guerrillero Heroico *

Alberto Korda studied business and first started to work as a salesman. He used to carry a small camera with him and sometimes he would stop to take impactful photos of the harsh reality in which Cuban people lived in. Before the Cuban revolution Korda was a fashion photographer in Havana; however, he always felt moved by the confronting realities of wealth and extreme poverty surrounding him. As a fashion photographer he always felt inspired by the beautiful figure of women. When the revolution happened in Cuba he found a new purpose and inspiration in observing and reporting significant historical events. So, he decided to take his camera from the studio into the streets.

la niña de la muñeca de palo, Alberto Korda
2. la niña de la muñeca de palo **

One of his best known photographs is “La niña de la muñeca de palo (The little girl with the wooden doll)”.  Korda later declared that this photograph was a turning point in his life. Although, he was not going to be a soldier in the revolution he was going to dedicate his life and career to record it. The revolution promised to change the reality that it was in front of him. The little girl with the  wooden doll is a record of everyday life for poor kids in Cuba before the revolution. [2]

The Cuban newspaper “La Revolución (The Revolution)” sent Korda to follow Fidel Castro in two of his trips. First to Venezuela and later to the United States. Korda recorded a major moment in modern history when he captured “Fidel in Washington”. This photograph shows the Cuban politician and revolutionary standing in contemplation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. After those trips Korda got the attention of Castro and became his companion photographer. Neither Castro nor the Cuban government paid Korda during that period. For Korda his work served a greater purpose. [3]

Fidel in Washington, Alberto Korda
3. Fidel in Washington ***

“La Miliciana (Milicia Girl)” is another famous photograph of the Cuban revolution. Korda took it in May 1st, 1962 during a parade in Havana, Cuba. This portrait represents the major role played by women during the revolution. Cuban women and men fought equally for social freedom.  [4]

Castro introduced Korda to underwater photography. Over the next few years Korda develops a keen interest for the underwater life. So when some years after the revolution the Cuban state newspaper changes its direction, he chooses to resign and abandons photojournalism.  Shortly after he found an underwater photography laboratory for the Cuban scientific academy.  For Korda photography is more than technique, it is best defined in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Little prince”: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

La Miliciana, Alberto Korda
5. La Miliciana ****

Although I grew up seeing Che Guevara’s portrait on prints, T-shirts, and wall graffiti; I cannot recall when was the first time I saw it or reflected upon what it represented and the ideas it embodied. Before learning about documentary photography I was never exposed to its author and his work.

To better understand the author such iconic photograph cannot be reduced to a formal study of the technique and composition. Whilst the symbolism attached to the photograph transcends the photographer, as a student of photography one must learn about the author and his life to better understand his motive and inspiration.


Works: * ***** ****