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PHOTOBOOK: RENÉ BURRI - IMPOSSIBLE REMINISCENCES

From Burri’s iconic shot of Che Guevara smoking a cigar, to his beautifully composed photographs of the construction of Brasilia, his black-and-white photography is ingrained in the collective consciousness.

Previously less-known are his colour photographs that he has continually taken alongside his black-and-white work. This book introduces a retrospective of his personal selection of colour photographs. (read more)

MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE

Magnum photographer René Burri has died aged 81. Burri — who began working with Magnum as an associate in 1955 before becoming a full member in 1959.

“Not only was he one of the great post war photographers, he was also one of the most generous people I have had the privilege to meet,” Martin Parr, President of Magnum Photos said in a statement. “[His] contribution to Magnum and his unrivalled ability to tell stories and entertain us over this time will be part of his enormous legacy. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family.”

“With René Burri, the world of photography loses one of its most powerful artists, a true humanist, who skillfully documented from behind-the-scenes the suffering and joy of human kind,” said Burri’s family. (read more here and here)

In this video, Burri takes us on a journey through six images from his archive:

» more photos by René Burri «  |  » more of Magnum Photos «  |   » more photobooks «

The history behind the iconic photo — On March 5, 1960, Cuban fashion photographer turned photojournalist Alberto Korda took this image of the 31-year-old Marxist revolutionary at a memorial service in Havana for victims of a munitions ship, La Coubre, which had exploded in the city’s harbor the previous day. Fidel Castro quickly blamed the U.S. for the blast, which killed at least 75 people and injured several hundred others, although the exact cause never was determined. After the La Coubre memorial service, the newspaper Korda worked for, “Revolucion,” ran pictures of Castro and other dignitaries but rejected the photo of Guevara. The picture appeared in various publications in Cuba and Europe in the ensuing years but drew little notice. In 1967, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a left-wing Italian publisher who was interested in Guevara, learned about the photo while on a visit to Cuba and was given a free copy by Korda. After the Argentine-born Guevara was captured and killed by soldiers in Bolivia later that same year, Feltrinelli distributed posters using Korda’s photo, dubbed “Guerrillero Heroico” (Heroic Guerilla), and the image soon spread around the world, becoming a symbol of revolution and youthful rebellion.

"The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese."

"The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations."

— 

An interesting an offensive revelation from Che Guevara, a man who was a much-loved and respected communist leader not just in Central and South America, but here in Africa too.

However, as the writer of the piece where I came across this text noted says, Guevara had written this during a time where he had had no previous contact with black people (Argentina has a terrible history when it comes to the treatment of black people), not that this excuses his words. Wouldn’t be publishing this post if it wasn’t important for this to be known. But unlike Gandhi, Guevara sought a remedy for his ignorance, and not in a stereotypical “eat, pray love” fashion. The young doctor would later travel his native continent, an enlightening experience for the soon-to-be revolutionary that saw him use his skills as a medical student to help those in need. Guevara also went on to make speeches like this that stood in stark contrast to the above statements, become an outspoken critique of apartheid in South Africa, and eventually find himself being an instrumental component in a complex fight in Congo and other parts of the African continent.

In the same speech delivered at the United Nations in 1964 were he spoke out against colonialism, racism, capitalism, imperialism and apartheid, Guevara said this about the United States and the country’s treatment of the Black population, still relevant today:

"Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men—how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?"

History is, at the very least, incredibly complex. Reiterating Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we can easily fall prey to the “danger of a single story" if we don’t delve further into the propagated singular narratives, whether romanticized or not. If anything, this is also a firm case of why we should stop referring to Thomas Sankara as the "African Che Guevera”. Although they share many similar influences, the histories of the two men are very different.

Thoughts, anyone?

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Al Billaad “Nations” (2011) - Palestinian Artist Ayman Yossri Daydban

Screenshot from the 2008 Steven Soderbergh film “Che”. Part of the Subtitle Series by Ayman Yossri Daydban. 

Nations that do not know how to read and write are easy to deceive.