Monday, 28 January 2008

Lost & found

3500 negatives from Robert Capa's series of photographs on the Spanish Civil War have been found in Mexico. After being considered as lost for 70 years, the circle has been closed, and we might end knowing something more about some of his most famous pictures.

Robert Capa, born in Budapest in 1913 as Endre Ernő Friedmann, was one of the greatest photographers in the 20th century. His most famous picture might well be "Spanish Loyalist", taken near Cerro Muriano, in Córdoba, depicting the death of a Loyalist Militiaman after being shot by Fascist machine-gun fire.

The proximity to the subject, the perfect exposure and timing, the angle... rose doubts about the authenticity of the picture. Some said Capa staged the death of the Loyalist. Until 1995, when a certain Mario Brotóns Jordà published his memoirs on the Spanish Civil War. Brotóns, himself a veteran of the Córdoba front, recognised the leather bullet pouches in Capa's photograph that were made in that fashion only in Alcoy, and that only the militiamen from Alcoy carried. Based on other indications on Capa's photograph, it could be dated to 5 September, and Brotóns found in the archives that the only militiaman from Alcoy who was killed on 5 September 1936 on the Córdoba front was Federico Borrell García. Brotóns traced a surviving brother of the deceased soldier and showed him the photograph. The brother was able to recognise Federico on the picture. Capa's "Loyalist" really did fall in battle.

Who knows what will these lost and found negatives tell us about the circumstances, about the people, about the dreams, about the nightmares of a whole generation. Capa said once "If your pictures are no good, you didn't get close enough", meaning by that not only the physical but also the emotional proximity with the subjects required to produce a really great photograph.

But there is yet another quote from Robert Capa that I really love. He said once, in an interview with the World Telegram: "No tricks are necessary to take pictures in Spain. You don't have to pose your camera. The pictures are there, and you just take them."

No comments: