René Burri’s Contact Sheet That Led to an Iconic Photo of Che Guevara

Imagine you were a newspaper photo editor back in 1963, and Swiss Magnum photographer René Burri handed you the contact sheet above filled with portraits of revolutionary Che Guevara. Which photograph would you select for publication?

You might recognize one of the photographs, since it has become one of the most iconic portraits created of Che.

For the image above, we actually desaturated it and Photoshopped out some of the red china marker boxes in order to not draw attention to the iconic shot.

Here’s what the original contact sheet looks like:

This is the portrait from the shoot that went on to become widely recognized:

Andrew Pulver over at The Guardian interviewed Burri back in 2010, and revealed some of the interesting backstory behind this image. Burri states,

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.

After returning back to the States, the now-defunct Look magazine ran a 16-20 page interview with Che, and published this photo… on 1/8 of a page amidst the text and other images.

The photo began growing in iconic significance after Che’s death in 1967.

So back to the original question. Is this shot the one you would have picked from the contact sheet?

Photographer René Burri’s best shot [The Guardian via Lense]

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    I have never seen this shot so thanks. I would pick the exactly same one. A few things came together in this shot. He looks good on it, the cigar, composition and good background. Only a few shots have non distracting and contrasting background, it must have been a difficult place to work in.

  • Tim

    I totally agree. I picked this one for the exact same reasons.

    It must be a nightmare for the editor to know that you have so many great photos of Che Guevara but you can only pick one! I have the same problem when picking photos to post process, i pour over them flicking back and forth over slightly different compositions, just the thought of “binning” anything sends me cold! I have the same problem with cropping, i just find it really difficult.

  • Mansgame

    The only one I remember was the one with the hat with the star on it that’s on all the hipster T-shirts now. These are much better though. I guess the lesson is that when you have the opportunity to shoot an iconic figure, don’t stop shooting and don’t delete anything.

  • Carlo Parducho

    Tri-X! ^_^

  • lidocaineus

    Love Tri-X. Nothing like its grain…

  • Che

    no hipster would be caught dead wearing a che shirt. maybe in 20 years when it becomes irony cubed. you’re one of the people who tosses that term around indiscriminately aren’t you and have no actual idea what you’re talking about.

  • DamianMonsivais

    Mansgame? Is that you again? Calling everyone that isn’t you a hipster again?

    Its not hipsters that where these shirt maybe young Mexican Americans who smoke lots of marijuana do, but not the hipsters.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t like any hipsters or Che t shirt wearing people but get it right man. Don’t start wrongly insulting people.

  • Scott M.

    Che was a murderer. Why he is so beloved is a mystery to me.

  • Juan Alvarez

    This is a ph web page, not political.

  • Juan Alvarez

    the one on the right. For me it’s more eveen, his head is straight

  • Dan Foy

    I can’t help getting sucked in by contact sheets. If you like this post then you’ll love the amazing Contact Sheets book by Magnum. I bought it with some Amazon vouchers that I won a while back, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I own*.

    It’s physically huge and beautifully printed… contact sheets for many of the most significant Magnum photographs of the last century, printed at larger than 10×8, alongside commentaries and huge images, some of them double spread. It’s not particularly cheap, but it’s something you can easily lose yourself in for hours.

    *(alongside, but in a different way to, Mitch Epstein’s photobook American Power, which my amazing girlfriend bought me for my birthday last year)

  • nn

    he was not a murderer it fight for the rights of the indians in south america
    your moroon you need to read history before you open your mouth idiot !!

    He was a Doctor!!

  • Andres Trujillo

    nn, he was also a homophobic, and racist, and a misogynist (apart for also overseeing PLENTY of firing squads), so I extend to you the same advice you gave Scott M. Read some history

  • ricky pesurnay

    if he was an today actor, he should play a role as wolverine, dark hair, beard, cigar, and the revolution is his adamantium claw & bone