Barack Obama’s HOPE posters recently became a topic of discussion in a class I did on propaganda posters. The HOPE posters were done in a similar style to traditional propaganda posters of the past and was made by Shepard Fairly. Fairey came under a lot of controversy and battled a copyright infringement lawsuit over the poster. Fairey gained financially from the sale of the posters and shirts derived from a photograph in which the photographer was not credited and did not receive any royalties from the sales of Fairey’s goods.

Image by Mannie Garcia
Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster


This made me look into the background of the Che Guevara image. Che Guevara’s image was widely used and reproduced in a similar fashion in posters and many other retail items.  Wondering if the photographer of the iconic image was compensated for the many items his image has been reproduced on I found the background story quite interesting. It also sparked my interest in the difference between the views and attitudes from a socialist society with those from a capitalist background.

Alberto Korda in front of his iconic Che Guevara image.

The iconic picture of Che Guevara was taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda. Alberto Korda’s image of Che would become a symbol of revolution and rebellion and would be reproduced many times. There are numerous posters, shirts, hats, mugs and even key chains that have used his image. Despite all the wide spread use Alberto Korda has never received any royalties from its use nor did he seek out any financial compensation*. This allowed mass reproductions of the picture and garnered profits for many. Such a stark contrast to the use of the Obama image and how monetary gain put an abrupt stop to its further use.

Korda believed that not limiting the use of the photograph would rapidly spread the image as well as the ideals of Che to a broader audience; he couldn’t have been more right.

Korda died on May 26, 2001 leaving the world with a breath of photographs and one of the most popular images to date. His iconic image of Che Guevara is considered to be one of the most highly reproduced photographic images in the world.

I found it so interesting to see how the socialist attitude of Korda’s allowed his image to spread and generate wealth for many. I thought that surely the man who took the image would be well compensated for its use and live off the royalties from the sales it generated. I was surprised to find that was not the case. Instead I was intrigued to know that the background story of the picture matched the ideals and views of the man it portrayed.

* There was one instance where Che’s image was used by Smirnoff to promote their beverages and that was the only time that Korda disputed the use of his photo. He was said to have received $50,000 from Smirnoff as a settlement, which he later donated to the Cuban health care system.

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