73 year old photographic mystery solved?
So far I’ve just been blogging about my own personal experiences, opinions, work etc. But I’ll break the “rule” now, blog about someone else’s work. And it’s one of the old classics: Robert Capa’s 1936 photo of a combatant falling to the ground after being shot dead. Allegedly!
The photo established Capa has a heroic, top war photographer, it was used over and over as a prime example of great timing and of “Capa’s Rule” : “If your photo ain’t good enough, you ain’t close enough!”
But the thing is, the photo has always been suspected of being staged. I vaguely remember first time I saw this photo, before I became a photojournalist, and just thinking “something ain’t right here”. (Also remember thinking “what’s with the hat?”) Well, if there ever was a set of rules in photojournalism, number one would be : You don’t stage a news photo and then claim it was a spontaneous event!
So OK, Capa always claimed it wasn’t staged. And we trusted him, since he’s reputation was ok and we couldn’t prove him wrong. But now a Spanish newspaper seems to have proven that something is indeed wrong with this photo!
The original caption read “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, Cerro Muriano, Córdoba front, Spain, September 5, 1936”. The newspaper photos above prove beyond doubt that the photo wasn’t taken in Cerro Muriano, but in a place called Espejo. Look closely at the distant hills, they match!
Ok, caption is wrong. Does that make it fabrication? Yes, because there weren’t any fighting in Espejo at that time! So maybe the date is wrong too? Dead end. When the fighting broke out in that area again, the photo was already filed!
And how about the fact that the dead soldier(s) have never been identified for sure. In spite of a lot of effort. And there’s no visible bullet wounds. Not to mention the incredible coincidence of him getting the shot in the first place! Also, I’m not a military historian, but… Would a soldier really be wearing a white shirt in combat? And would the rifle platoon be sitting upright like that, pointing their rifles? With bullets allegedly flying around their ears, I’d think they’d want to lie down in the grass or something…
I’m not sure how this is going to affect today’s world of photojournalism. Probably not really any effect at all. But my belief is shaken! More than when some over-eager digital photographer goes nuts in Photoshop. This is history we’re talking about. The foundation on which we are standing!
Mr Capa, really? WHY? Not you!
The Spanish Periodico goes on to speculate – and I just include this because it makes poetic sense – that “It is tempting to think that the next 18 years, in which Capa showed almost suicidal bravery in China, Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Normandy, the Ardennes, Leipzig, Israel, and Indochina, where he was killed by a mine in 1954, were dedicated to redeeming an original sin.”
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