Pictures I Like: “Red Flag Over the Reichstag”, 1945 by Yevgeni Khaldei

Either the seventh or eighth day of May, depending on where you are, is the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. This is the key image of the end of that war, but it is one that has aroused some controversy over the years.

The original photo for TASS. Note the seam along the center where the tablecloths were sewn together.

The original photo for TASS. Note the seam along the center where the tablecloths were sewn together.

Yevgeny Khaldei had been a photographer with TASS and then the Red Army since 1936. Now he was photographing the push toward Berlin — a massive battle that took a month and involved more than three million soldiers altogether. It became known to the Soviet war photographers that Stalin wanted an historic flag-raising scene — Stalin had been very impressed by Joe Rosenthal’s photo of US Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi while taking Iwo Jima. So Khaldei got his uncle, a tailor, to sew together three tablecloths and make a flag from them. He carried this home-made flag into Berlin. By the end of March the Red Army had taken Vienna and was pushing into Germany. Following a huge battle at the Seelow Heights, Soviet forces pressed into Berlin and had entered the city limits by April 20. Stalin had two generals with their respective armies attacking Berlin and he pressed each man to be the One, the general who took Berlin. Meanwhile, the Americans were unwilling to expend the manpower necessary to take Berlin — after all, they still had to defeat Japan. The bloody battle for Okinawa was to be the next big American fight. Even so, American bombers pounded Berlin for weeks, creating a great deal of destruction. The Red Army advanced into Berlin, fighting the Germans who took cover in the rubble. As the Soviets moved deeper into the city, German troops ensconced themselves on the rooftops and upper windows of the massive buildings. (Albert Speer recalled that everything was built to the scale of gods, not of men.) On April 22, the Red Army first attacked the Reichstag building. The defenders were mainly SS with a large contingent of non-German troops — Dutch, Swedes, Danes — they had nowhere to go and saw no alternative to fighting to the death. Here, the Soviet forces bogged down for a bit. The prime date for taking Berlin was Mayday. An all-out assault on April 29 -30 brought Soviet troops into the foyer of the huge building, but German soldiers firing from the wrecked floors above turned the lobby into a slaughterhouse. Still, the Soviets pressed forward, through the lobby, and managed to get on the upper floors where the battle was fought, room to room, until May 2. A force of Red soldiers managed to get onto the Reichstag roof and raise a flag on April 30, but it was too dark to photograph and German snipers soon brought it down. On May 2 (probably) Khaldei managed to get up on the roof and persuaded some soldiers to raise his tablecloth flag. Khaldei shot an entire roll of film on his Leica, 36 images, of the event. Jubilant, he sent his pictures back to Moscow. Then he was summoned back to the TASS main office in Moscow. An editor threw a print of the flag-raising on the table. “What is this?” he demanded, “That soldier is wearing two wristwatches. That means he has been looting. Red Army soldiers do not loot! Remove a watch!” So, Khaldei scratched out a wristwatch on the soldier to the right of the man raising the flag. (Some say that the item on the man’s right wrist is a compass, not a watch.) Khaldei also sharpened and darkened the smoke in the distance. Later, the photo was colored, resulting in this: khaldei_color Khaldei never expressed regret for retouching the photo, nor was he shy about staging the flag raising. Some perspective might result from remembering that Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photo was a re-enacted event, though Joe Rosenthal always denied that it was staged, even though James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, was on the scene and demanded a bigger flag be raised for the camera. Khaldei also photographed his flag being raised over other Berlin landmarks, including the Brandenburg Gate, and other photographers recorded flag-raisings throughout the city, from the Adlon Hotel to the Tempelhof airport. The men who are shown raising the flag are now thought to be, left to right: Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov, and (outside the frame in some photos) Leonid (or perhaps Alexei) Gorychev. Kovalyov was Ukrainian, Ismailov was from Dagestan, Gorychev from Minsk. Those names were supplied in 1995. For propaganda reasons, in 1945, the soldiers identified as raising the flag were Meliton Kantaria, a Georgian (like Stalin) and the man below,  Mikhail Yegorov, a Russian. The third man, Alexei Berest, was a Ukrainian and his name was deleted from the official captions. Mikhail Minin may have been the actual soldier who raised the “Victory Flag” on April 30, but by now who can say? Khaldei’s photo is the accepted popular version. With all of this, it is no wonder that some claim that Khaldei’s photo was “doctored”. Khaldei himself said that it was a good photo and depicted truth. And that leads into debates about photography and authenticity that I don’t want to get into here. Doctored or not, the photo is great propaganda. Khaldei had gone to work with TASS in 1936. He photographed much of the Second World War, including shots of Russian crowds hearing the official announcement that Germany had invaded, right through to photographs of the Nuremburg war crimes trial. Shots of Göring predominate there, although Khaldei claimed that Göring blamed him for some indignity suffered at the hands of a guard and covered his face when Khaldei approached. In Hungary, Khaldei photographed Jewish men and women wearing yellow stars, then ripped the stars from their clothing. His father and three of his four sisters were murdered by the Nazis. Khaldei’s mother and a grandfather were murdered in a Ukrainian pogrom before the War. In 1948, Khaldei was fired from TASS because, according to Khaldei, he was a Jew. Khaldei free-lanced until 1959 when Pravda hired him. In 1970 he was fired again. All during his career, Khaldei got others to take his picture as he posed before places he had just photographed minutes before.

Khaldei at Nuremburg. Goring is in the dock, possibly shielding his eyes from the glare. The defendants began wearing dark glasses soon after.

Khaldei at Nuremburg. Goring is in the dock, possibly shielding his eyes from the glare. The defendants began wearing dark glasses soon after.

The general Communist principle was that “art workers” were only a voice of the masses and not individuals, so it was many years after the War before Soviet authorities attached his name to his photographs. Khaldei began receiving recognition in the 1980s and, when a book of his photos was published in the early ’90s, Khaldei received enough money to buy a new camera: a Rolleiflex. “I never had such a camera in all my life!” he said. Khaldei died in 1997 at the age of 80.

Notes: At least eight of the 36 exposures made by Khaldei can be found via various Google searches. So far as I can determine none are copyright because the Soviet Union didn’t believe in such stuff. Khaldei was interviewed several times after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Here is a short piece where he describes retouching the wristwatch. Some of Khaldei’s images in a short video promoting a book about Khaldei. Witness to History: The Photographs of Yevgeny Khaldei and this is the book promoted above. More about the Reichstag flag on Iconic Photos, here and here.

My Adventures With Wikipedia, Copyright, Photography

I like Wikipedia. I use it a lot. But if you try to do something with Wikipedia besides simply look at an article, sometimes it is a giant pain in the ass.

Seven or eight years ago, I was browsing Wikipedia and looked up a lesser-known author I like. The article was contributed by a young Australian who had written a number of Wikipedia entries on a variety of topics. The article I read was full of misinformation; I never looked at any of the others she wrote. (I think it is much more difficult for this kind of contributor to create an entry now.) I thought it important that my writer have an accurate Wikipedia article so I thought I’d re-write it. It took me a while — Wikipedia has its own system of coding that has little to do with HTML — but it got done. Then the fun began.

First, there were the busy-bodies, busy busy all the time, who came in to “correct” this or that. I left all the grammar and style corrections — possibly they were improvements — but reverted one or two changes of factual material that were wrong, explaining this in the place provided to give reasons for an edit. Next came the spoofers and vandals, who wanted to turn the entry into their own private joke. (I am not naming the subject of my entry so as not to attract griefers who might think it a challenge.) Most of these malicious changes were caught quickly, sometimes in a few minutes, by Wikipedia editors on the prowl, bless ’em. The entire process was a fairly positive experience, though so time-consuming that I have never tried to write another entry from scratch, though I have added material to other articles from time to time.

An article on the Vancouver Canucks failed to mention that their first few seasons in the NHL were marred by the prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment of their owner. I have a special interest in criminal hockey owners and a particular interest in the Canucks, so I added that info, with footnotes, of course. Someone deleted it. So I reverted it. For a while my words stood, then someone chopped off a phrase and took a footnote with it. I repaired the notation, but left off the phrase. This repair took place some while after the chopping. I don’t go to Wikipedia daily nor do I keep track of my entries. I just check on them once in a great while to make certain they are still there.

One reason that I began this blog was to write without having to worry that my stuff was being edited or re-written without my approval, as was the case with Wikipedia. The posts here are personal and I can be a bit loose about my approach. One category that received a new post every month was Pictures I Like. The subject was a photo that I found striking for some reason or other and some background on the picture. This was a fairly popular feature here and some of these posts — such as the one on Grand Central Station — are still being discovered and linked by other bloggers.

Then, early last year, I got an e-mail from Stuart Franklin about a photo that was reproduced in the post Pictures I Like: Tankman. Franklin was somewhat exercised that I had used this photo not simply because it was copyright violation but because it was not at all a good picture that he had taken, it had technical flaws and so on. But he was also miffed because, 2014 being the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, he hoped to get some reprinting of the photos that he had taken that day and smuggled out of China, including one that won a World Press Award. Franklin is a professional (Magnum!) photographer, after all; this is his livelihood. I understood this and removed the picture from this site. Then I got another e-mail from Franklin: the photo was still up — on Wikipedia!

So I checked out Wikipedia and there was the photo in the “Tank Man” article. And it was credited to this blog which is how Franklin came to associate me with it. So I edited the article by removing the photo.

And then somebody put it back.

Now began some rather frustrating correspondence with a busy bee on Wikipedia, an increasingly perturbed Stuart Franklin, and myself. The busy bee was a helpful type who thought, he said, that republishing the photo was Fair Use, although, of course, he was not a lawyer. Franklin had written to Wikipedia himself and Busy Bee had taken it on himself to move Franklin’s correspondence to a different niche in the vast Wikipedia morass of places where things can be stored. He was only trying to help, he said, because he knew Wikipedia could be daunting to the uninitiated. Meanwhile, the photo was being considered for deletion by Wikipedia editors, though this proved to be a rather lengthy process.

Then, Franklin re-examined the photo and discovered that he hadn’t taken that particular picture! No wonder it was technically deficient. So, back to Wikipedia with this info (which created some more editorial discussion about who the photographer actually was). And Franklin e-mailed me a JPEG of a photo that he did take and which might be used by Wikipedia. So, I made that edit to the Tank Man article. Also I changed the file name on the several instances where the non-Franklin photo included his name, though I could not get them all.

Now everything was quiet for a time.

In December of 2014, I got a message from a Wikipedia user that the photo I had forwarded from Franklin had been “orphaned” and would be deleted. I found that curious as the photo was still quite visible in the Tank Man article. I looked at the photo history and saw that the user who had e-mailed me had changed the size of the picture and now his name was there as the photo source. That’s okay by me. You enjoy, Dude!

Over the course of this affair, I gave a lot of thought to how I should handle pictures on this site. The photo that I used, wrongly attributed to Franklin, was floating around on the internet and I carelessly scooped it up. One other time I got a smack on the wrist for using photos on this blog that were not properly attributed to the photographer. The place where I had gotten the pictures had not given the correct source. I was happy to make the change and give credit where credit is due, but that really doesn’t answer the questions that arise here.

Photographers create works that can easily be digitally copied and distributed. The final distinction between the original and a copy is disappearing along with chemical/film processing. So, once a photo appears on the internet, it loses commercial value. Of course, photography is not the only form to suffer difficulties from new technology: music, print publishing, movies and video — all are going through changes, but photography has been there from the beginning. Or at least, from the moment that it was possible to digitally reproduce images. Pornography was the original internet business opportunity because an image was something that could be sold on-line.

It is now so difficult to protect image copyright that some photographers are quitting. Watermarks are not the answer. If an image is published, the publisher will want it pristine, and, since print newspapers and magazines are dying, the internet is now the major place to publish. But once published, the image leaves the control of both publisher and photographer. Indeed, there are predatory photographers and graphic artists who steal the work of others and put their own name on it.

So, how to steer through all this? I have been trying to develop a publication code for myself, basically a set of personal rules that are under constant scrutiny and re-thinking. After all, I don’t want to do blog posts without pictures — they are, like this post, boring to many. Anyhow, pretty soon I hope to do another Pictures That I Like post.



Pictures I Like: Kids and Water

My Story: Around 1970 I started putting up pictures on the wall over the desk where I worked. This picture of a little girl swimming was the first. I put it on the wall because it made me smile every time I looked at it.

A little while later I added this picture of a kid who probably doesn’t know that he looks like a pharoah but who is having a good time anyway.

Then I added this one, of two kids in a drainage ditch or maybe a jungle river. A friend saw this picture and was horrified, “Who cut up those children and threw them in a ditch?” It was then that I understood that something was very wrong with her.

So what is it about these pictures? Well, there are kids having a good time — not being told to sit still or behave or not get their clothes dirty — they are totally without care and feeling good. Cold water, hot day, what’s not to like? Jung has something to say about these images as archetypes but I skimmed past that last time I came across it. I don’t want to over-analyze these pictures and lose their immediate virtue: They make me smile. Every time.
The Facts: I confess that I have lost the name of the photographer who took the first photo. (Yes, I’ve tried both TinEye and Google Image search — perhaps it’s not on line.) I recall that it’s a photo of his daughter taken late 60s or very early 70s at their vacation place in Maine or Massachusetts, but my recaller is not always reliable. Perhaps someone will write in and identify this photographer. Meanwhile this is a scan of an original artifact, punched full of holes made by staples and pushpins as it was moved from location to location.
The second photo was taken by George Krause in Philadelphia, 1966. Krause titled this picture “Fountainhead”.
The third photo is by Bruno Barbey and was taken in the Brazillian Amazon in 1966.

Pictures I Like: “A Walk To The Paradise Garden”, W. Eugene Smith (1946)


My Story: Isn’t that sweet! Those two kids and that wonderful light. All is joy and hope at an age when everything is new! No wonder that this photo was the final shot, the coda to Steichen’s Family of Man exhibit.

The Facts: Eugene Smith was an ordinary photographer before the Second World War, handling routine assignments for Life, Newsweek, and Parade magazines. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to join Steichen’s Navy photography unit but was refused because of his small size and an injury that hampered his movement. Smith persevered and managed to contract with Ziff-Davis Publishing and was assigned to the Pacific. He photographed combat at Rabaul, Tarawa, and in the Marianas. After his contract with Ziff-Davis ended, he got Life magazine to send him back in time for the fighting on Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa.
Smith’s father had committed suicide in 1936 and…:

…the sensational­ism of the local newspaper’s coverage of his death caused Smith to bitterly hate dishonest journalism. Smith almost decided to quit journalism, but a friend convinced him that, “honesty is not of a profession, but within the individual and what he brings to his work.”

This passion for honesty caused him to despise sentimental depictions of war’s glory (such as the Iwo Jima flag-raising); Smith was determined to show the gritty realities. These included dying soldiers caked in mud, and civilians caught up by chaos and fear.

Saipan, 1944. Smith: "They burst out through the opening, stumbling, dazed, choking, and nearly blinded by the fumes, trying to lurch and claw their way past the still warm body of a man, and another of a boy. Trying for an escape when there was no escape."

Saipan, 1944. Smith: “They burst out through the opening, stumbling, dazed, choking, and nearly blinded by the fumes, trying to lurch and claw their way past the still warm body of a man, and another of a boy. Trying for an escape when there was no escape.”

The Pacific war was brutal and nasty, and the battle for Okinawa was a horror show. This was the bloodiest battle Americans had fought since the Civil War and it included mass suicides by civilians who feared capture. Smith photographed it all. He hated what he saw but:

If I could photograph powerfully enough… If my photographs could grab the viewer by the heart, making the enormity of the terribleness of war lodge heavilly, they might also prod the conscience and cause him to think. [Smith]

Okinawa, 1944. Smith: "In his first action he had been quickly hit and was now lying on a stretcher... The blood had sprayed the length of him and behind him as he ran... it now was mixed with the muck of Okinawa from his boots to the head wound from which it had come... As he lay thee he touched the tips of his fingers together... The last I saw of him...two men running and creeping with the recent replacement between them... I think the boy on the stretcher was already dead."

Okinawa, 1944. Smith: “In his first action he had been quickly hit and was now lying on a stretcher… The blood had sprayed the length of him and behind him as he ran… it now was mixed with the muck of Okinawa from his boots to the head wound from which it had come… As he lay there he touched the tips of his fingers together… The last I saw of him…two men running and creeping with the recent replacement between them… I think the boy on the stretcher was already dead.”

While photographing the fighting, a shell hit near Smith and shrapnel tore through his body. One shell fragment passed through his left hand that was focusing the camera, and then ripped through his face, shattering parts of his skull. Smith was shipped back to the US and spent two years having metal and bone splinters removed from his face. His skull was reconstructed and his hand rebuilt, but fluid constantly dripped from his nose and he could not fully close his hand. For a time Smith thought he would never use a camera again.

Two years after he was wounded, Smith determined to make an effort to create a photograph. He decided to photograph his youngest children who were too small to recognize the struggle he was undertaking. He got his wife and oldest child out of the house, not wishing witnesses to what might be a failure. Once they were gone, Smith faced his first trial:  he had to load the camera with film.

I struggled to tear open the cardboard container, and then struggled to open the camera and insert the roll. This, at the beginning, almost proved my undoing, for as I fought to give my mangled left hand a strength and a control it did not have…the pain and the nerves and the fear and the inadequate fumbling left me trembling, sweating, and coldly hunched in cramp. [Smith]

Now, with the camera loaded, he and the children went outside. It was a lovely day and the children scampered about as Smith walked behind, trying to work the focus with his ruined hand. Whenever he brought the camera to his face, nasal fluid splashed on the glass viewfinder and obscured his vision. He struggled along, forcing his hand to work and swallowing the vile, bitter, seepage from his wounds.

Then Smith saw the opening in the trees, full of light, and thought his children might walk into it. It was the shot he hoped for.

I became acutely sensitive  to the lines forming the scene and to the bright shower of light pouring into the opening and spilling down the path toward us. Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. [Smith]

Smith struggled with the camera, pain ripping from his hand through his arm as he focused, sucking down the “ugly tasting serum”, gauging the light and composition, and trying to determine exactly when to press the shutter to make up for his slowed reaction time. He squeezed off a shot and knew that he had something. He forced himself to take another. Then he turned away from the children so that they would not see him weep.


Life photographs by Smith
a biographical essay
the lengthy piece by Smith excerpted above
Photography Made Difficult, American Masters documentary

Pretend Everything Is Okay — Maybe No One Will Notice That It Isn’t

The G-8 nations are meeting in Northern Ireland, near the town of Enniskillen, and David Cameron wants to make certain everything looks rosy for the world leaders coming to discuss economic matters. Trouble is, Ireland has been hit hard ever since the bottom fell out of the financial market a few years back. A lot of shops have been abandoned; they sit empty, signs pulled down, naked storefront windows showing bare shelves… Well, we can’t have world leaders confronted with visible signs of the disaster they continue to enable — they might become concerned or even shift to non-stupid policies. So Cameron’s government has decided to make Enniskillen prettier. Those storefront windows have been papered over with photos of stuff that would be on sale if only the store was still solvent.

This used to be a butcher shop, now it just looks like one. Those are photos of meat in the window and a fake display inside. [photo: Bryan O'Brien for the Irish Times]

This used to be a butcher shop, now it just looks like one. Those are photos of meat in the window and a fake display inside. [photo: Bryan O’Brien for the Irish Times]

  Dan Keenan, reporter for the Irish Times:

What they’ve done is to fill the shop front window with a picture of what was the business before it went bankrupt or closed. In other words, grocery shops, butcher shops, pharmacies, you name it, they have placed large photographs in the windows that if you were driving past and glanced out the window, it would look as if this was a thriving business. It’s an attempt really by the local authority to make the place look as positive as possible for the visiting G8 leaders and their entourages, and it’s really tried to put a mask on a recession that has really hit this part of Ireland really very badly indeed.

… it looks as if the door is open and inside you can see a well-stocked shop. It’s nothing of the sort. That door has been locked shut for well over a year because that particular business went bust this time last year, and that is an image to make it look as if everything is normal in the town and in the county, but unfortunately it’s not. The County of Fermanagh has suffered terribly as a result of the credit crisis and the resulting recession.

All the paint for the peeling facades and photos for the empty windows will cost about a half million US dollars — which, in a place the size of Inniskillen, might have made a real difference to the local economy. But it’s better to not see what’s going on, particularly if you have some responsibility for the problem.

Some problems are too large for a complete counterfeit. This abandoned shopping center has big scenic posters pasted over the dead-eyed windows. [Photo: Bryan O'Brien for the Irish Times]

Some problems are too large for a complete counterfeit. This abandoned shopping center has big scenic posters pasted over the dead-eyed windows. [Photo: Bryan O’Brien for the Irish Times]

Altogether, about a hundred places have gotten fixer-uppers, ranging from a large poster that more or less hides them to a complete counterfeit. You might think that people with an interest in the world economy might like a bit of the truth but, no, that might put them off their lunch and all that squab and caviar would go to waste.

This used to be a pharmacy, now it's a pretend office supply store. [Photo: Bryan O'Brien for the Irish Times]

This used to be a pharmacy, now it’s a pretend office supply store. [Photo: Bryan O’Brien for the Irish Times]

Of course, many Canadians have not gotten over the fact that more than a billion dollars was spent on the 2010 G-8/G-20 conference when Ottawa built a park and hired lots and lots of cops. But think about it, we could spend a billion bucks to landscape Huntsville, Ontario and Northern Ireland only gets half a million to cover up their mess. See, that’s a lesson right there in the global realities of comparative wealth.



Beautiful Abandonment

These photos of abandoned places are all from Francesco Mugnai’s blog where they are linked back to an original source. Sometimes there is more information about the places, sometimes there isn’t.

So-called Tunnel of Love in Kleven, Ukraine. [photo: Oleg Gordienko]

So-called Tunnel of Love in Kleven, Ukraine. [photo: Oleg Gordienko]

Holey Trinity by rustyjaw

Holey Trinity by rustyjaw

Abandoned hotel in Tequendama, Colombia.

Abandoned hotel in Tequendama, Colombia.

Supermarket in Goražde, Bosnia. [photo: Andrew Moore]

Supermarket in Goražde, Bosnia. [photo: Andrew Moore]

Sunken yacht off Antarctica.

Sunken yacht off Antarctica.



Connections: Revolutionaries and Explosions

In 1898, the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. The American press immediately formulated the notion that the ship was blown up by Spanish authorities, since the American press favored the Cuban rebels in their insurrection. Later investigations by American agencies, public and private, have concluded that the explosion was accidental, though they do not all agree on the nature of the accident. The official version in Cuba now is that the Americans blew the ship up themselves in order to facilitate US intervention in the Cuban conflict, which is sort of okay since it was done to get rid of the Spanish and free Cuba.


In 1960, on March 4, the French freighter la Coubre blew up in Havana harbor while unloading munitions sent from Belgium. A hundred people were killed and many injured including firefighters and rescue workers who were caught in a secondary explosion. Che Guevara was on the scene and used his medical training to help the injured. The official Cuban version is that the CIA, using William Alexander Morgan as an agent, engineered the event. The CIA’s account of the incident is sealed but most American reports note that unloading a munitions ship directly onto the dock was against Havana harbor’s own regulations and suggest that sloppy handling of the munitions was the cause of the explosion.

A victim of the la Coubre explosion.

A victim of the la Coubre explosion.

The next day, there was a memorial ceremony at Havana harbor honoring the dead. Che Guevara attended and the photographer Alberto Gutierrez, known as Korda, snapped two pictures of him. The paper Korda worked for selected a photo of Castro to run with their story and returned the unused pictures to Korda.

uncropped photo of Che Guevara taken March 5, 1960 at Havana harbor by Korda

uncropped photo of Che Guevara taken March 5, 1960 at Havana harbor by Korda

The American adventurer William Alexander Morgan, who was the only foreigner besides Che Guevara to become a commandante, the highest rank in the Cuban revolutionary army, was discovered to be smuggling weapons into Cuba to anti-Castro forces. He was executed by firing squad in 1961. Che Guevara went to Bolivia to organize a revolution there.

Memorial ceremony for la Coubre. Castro at left, Che toward center, Morgan on the right (circled).

Memorial ceremony for la Coubre. Castro at left, Che toward center, Morgan on the right (circled).

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, an Italian publisher, had discovered Che through the writings of Regis Debray and decided to do something that featured the man. Feltrinelli had been a Communist, but split with the party in 1956 or ’57. He had picked up Doctor Zhivago while it was still a secret and, after some clandestine correspondence with Boris Pasternak, published an Italian edition in 1957. He also published Lampedusa’s The Leopard in that year and, during the 1950s and ’60s, a number of other important books by writers such as James Baldwin and Carlos Fuentes, as well as revolutionary materials such as manuals of the Uruguayan Tupamaros that inspired Italian groups such as the Red Brigades.

Korda with Che and Che

Korda with Che and Che

Feltrinelli had gone to Bolivia to effect the release of Regis Debray. Later, he tried to track down Che but was expelled by the authorities. In Cuba in 1967, Feltrinelli visited Korda and asked him if he had any pictures of Che Guevara. Korda pointed to one that he had taken at the la Coubre ceremony and hung on his wall and said, “That’s the best one that I have.” Feltrinelli offered to buy it but Korda said that, because Feltrinelli was a friend of the revolution, he would give it to him. Feltrinelli left with the picture. Shortly thereafter, Che Guevara was murdered in Bolivia by American operatives. Feltrinelli copyrighted the picture, published it, and sold about 200,000 posters in six months. The image has been reproduced a zillion times since. Feltrinelli made a lot of money. Korda never got a nickel from the photograph. Feltrinelli also published Che’s Bolivian Diaries, given to him by Castro. Later, he supplied a pistol that was used to assassinate Bolivian colonel Quintanilla, who was supposed to be one of Che’s killers.

Feltrinelli and Castro, 1967

Feltrinelli and Castro, 1964

Feltrinelli's corpse.

Feltrinelli’s corpse.

In 1970 Feltrinelli founded his own leftist group Gruppi d’Azione Partigiana (GAG), which was dedicated to something or other. Two years later, his body was discovered at the base of a high voltage tower near Milan. He had been blown apart by a bomb. There were a good many leftist revolutionary groups in Italy in those days and the newly formed Red Brigades, later famous for the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro among others, investigated Feltrinelli’s death. Their conclusion was that he died when the dynamite bomb he was trying to arm at the base of the power pylon went off accidentally because of a defective timer. The official Italian government version is that Feltrinelli failed to wire his bomb properly. There are rumors that his death was arranged by Italian authorities.