Saturday, April 30, 2011

Guerrillero Heroico

“Forget the camera, forget the lens, forget all of that. With any four-dollar camera, you can capture the best picture.” - Alberto Korda

For those of you who might not know who Alberto Korda was, I guarantee you've seen his work. Leastwise, you've seen one particular image from his work. It's a portrait: a portrait that became the most reproduced photograph in the history of photography.

Interestingly, the portrait was snapped by a guy who traded in his exciting, party-filled life as a successful glamour, fashion, and commercial photographer to pursue something that held more meaning for him.

Yep. Alberto Korda was the guy who snapped the most iconic photo in history. The image was the second of only two 35mm frames he shot of his subject that day. Korda snapped it while he was standing in a large crowd in front of an outdoor podium. He didn't use artificial light. He wasn't able to pose his subject. He simply snapped two pictures.

The photo? It's called Guerrillero Heroico or, in English, Heroic Guerrilla. It's a candid snapshot, I should say it's *the* candid snapshot of Ernesto "Che" Guevara-- an Argentinian doctor, author, revolutionary, guerrilla leader, and both an international symbol of rebellion as well as a pop-culture insignia for just about anything. It's ironic that Che, an anti-capitalism revolutionary, has had his image capitalistically embraced like no other photo in the history of photos. From posters to tee-shirts to Swatch watches to vodka labels to baby clothes and more. Much more. Some might think of this as transmogrification in the extreme. I know I do.

Korda didn't snap his "Che" image with a four-dollar camera. It was 35mm, probably 50s vintage, and probably a Leica with a long lens hanging off the front. His point, however, is well taken. It's not the camera, it's not the lens, it's not the gear, it's the photographer.

I'm not going to harp on this notion of best pictures and $4 cameras. I've done so before. Both my ebooks, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots spend a fair amount of time talking about gear and how the best gear isn't always, well, the best gear. Besides, I think I'm going to save some of what I might say about Korda's words for a chapter in the new ebook I'm writing, Zen and the Art of Glamour Photography, which is nearing completion.

The pretty girl at the top wearing fatigue pants and nothing else is Cassandra. It's one from a short set of test shots I did with her in my studio... when I still had a studio. Cassandra is my idea of what South American guerrilla fighters should look like. But maybe that's just me?


MarcWPhoto said...

The one, the only, HCB: "The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera."

Granted, a camera can only do what a camera can do. "A pint cannot hold a quart, Mr. Pizer. If it holds a pint, it's doing the best it can." but mainly, yeah, taking pictures is singing songs, not telling tales. (Quotes not inserted.)

jimmyd said...

On my Facebook photography page, a reader commented quite humorously about this. James Mason wrote:

"Korda shot the famous photo with a Leica M2 and a 90mm Elmarit lens. I sort of agree with the statement about the four-dollar camera, but somehow it's always the guy with the Leica around his neck who says it."


Ed Selby said...

The snapshot we all know is a cropped image. I saw an exhibit of Korda's pix (among others) at the International Center of Photography back in October. Really incredible work done with those "$4" cameras. The shots prove that "access" is frequently more important than gear.