Tuesday, 30 March 2010

ROBERT CAPA. SUSAN SONTAG AND THE DEATH OF A REPUBLICAN SOLDIER



During the filming of the documentary The Shadow of the Iceberg on the Robert Capa’s most famous photo, Death of a Republican Soldier, its directors asked me my opinion (reflected in the acknowledgments at the end of the film). This is what I answered, "I always had some further questions about the authenticity of the photo. The argument of "knowing Capa it would have been impossible that him had to tried to pass that image for what it was not" do not serve me. Precisely, a poker player like him, if he had encountered with a bluff with large bets on the stake he would have continued without batting an eyelid, making believe to the others that he had a poker of aces instead of a couple of twos. But my biggest doubts about the authenticity of the photo came to me after reading the book by Susan Sontag’s book, Facing the pain of others, that was published in Spain in 2003. I want to stress that I totally agree on two assertions of capital importance of Ms. Sontag:

1) On page 67 she writes (my edition is the British one, Penguin Books): "The point of Death of a Republican Soldier is that is a real moment, captured fortuitously; it loses all value should the falling soldier turn out to have been performing for Capa’s camera”.There are many people who felt that the image is a symbol against fascism and that their role and importance is the same whether the photo is mounted or not. I repeat: "Not to me!” Curiously Richard Wheeler, the historian of Capa, called fascists, Raul and Hugo Riebenbaur Domenech, the producers of The Shadow of the Iceberg, for exposing their doubts about the reality of the photograph.

2) Page 31: "Capa, the most celebrated figure in a generation of politically engaged photographers whose work centered on war and victimhood.


ESPAÑA 1936


ESPAÑA BOMBARDEO 1937


Page 69: "What assured the guarantee of authenticity of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film re-creation of the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day in Saving Private Ryan (1988) was that it was based, among other sources, on the photographs taken with immense bravery by Robert Capa during the landing.”


ROBERT CAPA DIA D


I am not worried about the history of the photo. I would mind if the whole myth of Capa would rest solely on this picture. But besides it, they are all the other images captured by his camera, the founding of Magnum, and his death in Indochina "with the boots on." My admiration and consideration for Robert Capa remains the same.


ROBERT CAPA. FOTO RUTH ORKIN


More paragraphs of the book in which Susan Sontag doubt on the picture. Page 42: "The suspicion that Capa’s Death of a Republican Soldier titled The Falling Soldier in the authoritative compilation of Capa’s work-may not show what it is said to show (one hypothesis is that it records a training exercise near the front line) continues to haunt discussions of war photography".
Page 54: "The Spanish Republican soldier has just died, if we may believe the claim made for that picture, which Capa took at some distance from his subject".


And one of the main arguments: Page 29: “Capa’s already much admired picture, taken (according to the photographer) on September 5, 1936, was originally published in Vu on September 23, 1936, above a second photograph, taken from the same angle and in the same light, of another Republican soldier collapsing, his rifle leaving his right hand, on the same spot on the hillside; that photograph was never reprinted. The first picture also appeared soon after in a newspaper,París-Soir."


What was happening in Cerro Muriano? Was Capa photographing the Republican soldiers beeing shot by pairs?
For me, the ultimate proof would be in the negatives or tear sheets of that image. But, curiously, they never appeared.



And finally, a thought of the Catalan National Geographic photographer Tino Soriano: "Ever since I saw The Shadow of the Iceberg I didn’t had the slightest doubt that the controversial photograph “Death of a republican soldier” was a fitting.

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