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What happened when René Burri met Che Guevera

One cigar, one ideological argument and no eye contact whatsoever resulted in one of Burri's most iconic shots
René Burri, Che Guevara (1963), Havana, Cuba
René Burri, Che Guevara (1963), Havana, Cuba


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Atlas Gallery, London, United Kingdom

atlasgallery.com

From: 11 May 2012
Until: 9 June 2012

René Burri: Larger Than Life

Opening hours:
Mon - Fri: 10AM - 6PM
Sat: 11AM - 5PM


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Forty nine years ago this week, photographer René Burri travelled to Cuba alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson in the hope of tracking down Che Guevara. The Magnum photographers were on assignment for Look and Life magazines respectively. Within minutes of meeting Guevara in his office on the eighth floor of the Hotel Riviera, a furious ideological dogfight broke out between the Cuban rebel leader and Laura Bergquist, the journalist with whom Burri was working.

"He didn’t look at me once..." Burri said, but that didn’t stop him seizing upon what he called 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 said on his return. The famed image of Guevara you see above was snatched by Burri as Guevara sat back in his seat after lighting a big Havana.

Sao Paulo

René Burri, São Paulo, Brazil, 1960 © René Burri / Magnum Photos, Courtesy of ATLAS GALLERY

The portrait of Guevara has since taken on incalculable cultural significance, yet Burri, with typical modesty, has said "the picture is famous thanks to the chap with the cigar, not to me." Typically outspoken, he added that the image - along with 22 others he shot that day - was "cropped badly" by the magazine in which it appeared. Burri is the subject of an upcoming exhibition, René Burri: Larger than Life hosted by ATLAS Gallery in London, May 11 to June 9, 2012. The exhibition will feature his photographs in the biggest format they've ever been presented. 

Arab Emirates

René Burri, Caravan, United Arab Emirates, 1975 © René Burri / Magnum Photos, Courtesy of ATLAS GALLERY

If you're interested in learning more about Burri, we have two fantastic books on the acclaimed photographer. René Burri Photographs, is a full career retrospective, and includes iconic images of the key cultural figures of the 20th century; among them Picasso, Le Corbusier, Giacometti and Barragán and represents the breadth of Burri's travels around the world, from post-World War II Europe to Cuba, Vietnam, and the Middle East. It also comes in a Collectors Edition with a limited edition print of Picasso taken by Burri in Nimes in 1957. Burri met with the artist at the Hotel du Cheval Blanc, joined him for dinner and their relationship flourished. The photograph included in the collectors edition features Picasso at home in Ville La Californie, Cannes in his trademark Breton stripes, with a pet bird and his own work in the background. The book's designed by prominent Swiss graphic designer Werner Jeker of ADN Design, Lausanne and each copy is signed and numbered by the 79-year-old photographer. Read more about it


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