Monday, March 22, 2010

Authentic photo

This famous photograph (1st image) - "Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936" - was taken during the Spanish Civil War by Hungarian photojournalist Robert Capa (1913-1954). It was originally published in a French magazine with a 2nd similar image of one of the man's fellow resistance fighters and the caption, “With lively step, breasting the wind, clenching their rifles, they ran down the slope covered with thick stubble. Suddenly their soaring was interrupted, a bullet whistled — a fratricidal bullet — and their blood was drunk by their native soil.”

Allegations that the "Falling Soldier" photograph was staged were first made in 1975. In 1996, a British journalist identified the soldier falling to his death as Mario Brotóns Jordá, who was documented to have been killed in that location on that day, but the authenticity of the photo itself was still disputed in 1998 by a British historian.

To refute the suggestion that Jordá had posed for the photograph prior to his death, Capa biographer Richard Whelan had the photo analyzed forensically by Captain Robert L. Franks, chief homicide detective of the Memphis Police Department and a talented photographer in his own right. Whelan writes, "The most decisive element in his reading is the soldier’s left hand, seen below his horizontal left thigh. Capt. Franks told me in conversation that the fact that the fingers are somewhat curled toward the palm clearly indicates that the man’s muscles have gone limp and that he is already dead. Hardly anyone faking death would ever know that such a hand position was necessary in order to make the photograph realistic. It is nearly impossible for any conscious person to resist the reflex impulse to brace his fall by flexing his hand strongly backward at the wrist and extending his fingers out straight." With this evidence, Whelan suggested that it was time to let both Capa and Borrell rest in peace, and to acclaim the "Falling Soldier" once again as an unquestioned masterpiece of photojournalism and as perhaps the greatest war photograph ever made.

Robert Capa (2nd image) died with his camera in his hand when he stepped on a land mine while documenting the First Indochina War - years after swearing off combat photography. While fleeing Europe in 1939, he had lost thousands of his negatives, leaving them behind in a Paris darkroom. These made their way, via the darkroom manager and an anonymous filmmaker, to Mexico. Surfacing in the 1990s and transferred to the International Center of Photography in 2007, these photos became the centerpiece of an exhibit of Capa's life and work that also included contact sheets (3rd image), caption sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters and original magazine layouts.

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