Ernesto Che Guevara, Havana, Cuba by Rene Burri
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Gelatin silver print
Signed, titled, dated, and editioned, in pencil, au verso
Printed in 1997
Edition III of VI
Image credit: © Estate of René Burri / Magnum Photos
René Burri (1933-2014) studied at the School of Applied Arts in his native city of Zurich, Switzerland. From 1953 to 1955 he worked as a documentary film-maker and began to use a Leica while doing his military service.
Burri became an associate of Magnum in 1955 and received international attention for one of his first reportages, on deaf-mute children, ‘Touch of Music for the Deaf’, published in LIFE magazine.
In 1956 he traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East, and then went to Latin America, where he made a series on the gauchos that was published by Du magazine in 1959. It was also for this Swiss periodical that he photographed artists such as Picasso, Giacometti, and Le Corbusier. He became a full member of Magnum in 1959, and started work on his book Die Deutschen, published in Switzerland in 1962, and by Robert Delpire the following year with the title Les Allemands. In 1963, while working in Cuba, he photographed Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara during an interview by an American journalist. His images of the famous revolutionary with his cigar appeared around the world.
Burri participated in the creation of Magnum Films in 1965, and afterwards spent six months in China, where he made the film The Two Faces of Chinaproduced by the BBC. He opened the Magnum Gallery in Paris in 1962, while continuing his activities as a photographer; at the same time he made collages and drawings.
In 1998 Burri won the Dr Erich Salomon Prize from the German Association of Photography. A big retrospective of his work was held in 2004-2005 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and toured many other European museums. René Burri lives and works in Zurich and Paris.
– Source: Magnum Photos
In 1962, René Burri visited Havana on commission for Look magazine. One of the resultant portraits of Guevara smoking a cigar became an iconic image of the 20th century. For the book Contact Sheets, Burri told the story behind the photograph: In 1962, Burri visited Havana on commission for Lookmagazine. One of the resultant portraits of Guevara smoking a cigar became an iconic image of the 20th century. For the book Contact Sheets, Burri told the story behind the photograph:
“I arrived with the US reporter Laura Berquist from Look magazine. Che had invited her when they met at the end of 1962 in New York. I immediately realized that the blinds were closed. Since this posed a technical problem, I asked him, ‘May I open the blinds?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s not necessary.’ Only later did I realize that he was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t want to see what was going on outside.
“The interview began right away, and after a while they simply ignored me. The conversation became heated. Sometimes he would speak with a certain charm, but sometimes he would grab some papers. I have a photo of him jotting down figures. From time to time he would get up and leave, and he would always come back wearing his officer’s boots and combat fatigues. I remember that when he bit off the tip of his cigar, I expected him to offer me one, but he was so immersed in the discussion, which was lucky for me because I was simply ignored for two whole hours. He never once looked at me, which was extraordinary. I was moving all around him, and there isn’t a single photograph in which he appears looking at the camera.
“Magnum distributed the story all over the world. In 1966, some friends asked me, ‘René, can we make a poster?’ And they made a huge poster framed exactly like Che’s photograph. And from that moment on, it all began. People wanted to have the photo. The real boom was in Paris, in May 1968, when the photo appeared on flags. Later, when I returned to Havana, I saw my photo on T-shirts at the Ministry of Information, and I even bought some for my children. I told the salesperson, ‘That photo is mine!’ And I bought my T-shirts.
“I regret not having seen Che again. To me what really matters is to preserve his image as a visionary, as a man who was willing to go to the very end. I believe the struggle continues.”
– with thanks to Magnum Photos for this quote
Artist Bio (PDF)
Behind the Image: Che Guevara by René Burri (PDF) – Magnum Photos, October 2017
Remembering One Of The Masters – Rene Burri (1933 – 2014) (PDF) – Fstoppers, October 2014
René Burri, Photographer of Picasso and Che, Dies at 81 (PDF) – The New York Times, October 2014