Imaging American Camouflage
Media project and writing about the spatial aesthetics of politics and cult(s) of personality
Imaging American Camouflage is an ongoing project about architecture, politics, and the link between images and acts of disappearance. This work grew from Starstruck: A Spanish Brand in Latin America, a short essay about the urban history of the Star .45 caliber pistol. Similar to Starstruck, this project is not a celebration of personal politics, it is an interrogation of the production of images and their discursive affect. It is obvious that the practice of making images has radically changed in the 21st century. Imaging pulsates through an endless algorithmic exhaust that coats our individual and collective imagination with a smooth political primer. In spite of their ubiquity, images or not inherently political, it is the practice of making them that provides a second coat of paint for the aesthetics of politics. In Latin America, the paint fumes are an intense aesthetic experience.
One set of image(s) used in American Camouflage are from Ernesto "Che" Guevara's counterfeit Uruguayan passport, which he used to enter Bolivia in 1966. The passport photos are paired with Alberto Korda's iconic photographs, shot with his Leica camera during Fidel Castro's speech in response to the explosion of the French cargo vessel, La Coubre on March 4, 1960. Korda's first print of these photographs was made on Kodak Plus X Pan film. Among those prints was his "accidental" portrait of Che, which would become one of the most reproduced images in the world. In 1967, one year after Che's clandestine entry into Bolivia and seven years after the explosion of La Coubre, the Italian publisher Gianfranco Feltrinelli printed the first thousand posters using Korda's portrait. Feltrinelli received two prints (without copyright) of the portrait from Korda himself on a visit to Cuba earlier that year. In October of the same year, Che was captured an executed by the Bolivian army with assistance from the CIA. Two months later, Feltrinelli published the first run of posters. Che's presence in Bolivia influenced guerrilla warfare tactics throughout the American continent. The dissemination of his portrait, titled El Guerrillero, had a similar effect.
Korda's portrait and the Uruguayan passport photo share — through subject, circumstance and timeline — a relationship worth exploring. Although El Guerrillero hangs in North American dormitories and rebel camps alike (it's also tattooed on Maradona's shoulder and Mike Tyson's belly), its inception and dissemination is linked Che's Uruguayan passport photo. Questions of aura and originality aside, both images were not meant to be celebrated or disseminated; each image was a vehicle for camouflage. Imaging American Camouflage connects two images that probe at Walter Benjamin's routinely referenced suggestion: "architecture is the only art consumed in a perpetual state of distraction". Why does architecture continue to oscillate between the unintentional iconic portrait and the counterfeit document?