Alborta's post mortem photo of Guevara,
But a photograph emerged that seemed to me to be a powerful visual and artistic reminder of Che’s redemptive powers. After his execution, Guevara's body was lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to nearby Vallegrande, where photographs were taken of him lying on a concrete slab in a dismal laundry room. As hundreds of weeping locals filed past the body, many of these deeply Catholic people believed that Guevara's corpse was Christ-like in its hideous suffering. Freddie Alborta was the photographer who immortalised this last scene.
I am not sure how Alborta’s post-mortem photograph of Che Guevara was released, but English art critic John Berger observed that it resembled two famous paintings: Rembrandt's very large work, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp 1632 and Andrea Mantegna's smaller Lamentation over the Dead Christ 1490. Berger had published many humanist essays and reviews in the New Statesman, and his strongly stated opinions on modern art made him a controversial and somewhat political figure. An early collection of essays, Permanent Red, made a clear statement of his own political commitments.
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632,
Royal Gallery Mauritshuis.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1490,
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
The powerful Catholic Church did little to condemn the greed of the ruling class in South America; instead of promoting social change and justice, it opted for the good order of the status quo. So it is doubly confusing for a humanist left wing art critic to be citing classical paintings in relation to a Marxist revolutionary from South America. However I think he was correct.
John Hess was also interested in the representation of Che Guevara as Christ, particularly following the publication of the post mortem photo in 1967. He quoted an Argentinian film maker who interviewed Freddy Alborta decades later and drew out the circumstances of the photograph. What were Alborta’s feelings and impressions? Did he know of John Berger’s interpretations of Alborta’s own photo?
Alborta did not, but he was very aware that this was not simple photo journalism. The photographer said he worked very carefully, knowing that he was in the presence of an already legendary figure, a Christ figure even, and that such a moment comes once in a life time.
You may like to read: John Berger "Che Guevara: the moral factor", in The Urban Review, Volume 8, Number 3, September, 1975