The photograph that I am presenting today is a war photograph and it has become the symbol of Spanish Civil War. It is a Robert Capa photograph. Capa was such an influential and respected photographer that saying “a Robert Capa photograph” makes sense as he was considered a one man institution. He was one of the founding members of Magnum Photos —the world’s first co-operative agency for freelance photographers. Today’s photograph is officially called “Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death” and also known as “The Falling Soldier”. Officially it is stated that the photograph was taken on September 5, 1936 in Cerro Muriano, Spain.
This photograph, besides being a famous photograph, has been one of the most controversial photographs in history. Why? I will tell you. The photograph was taken during the Spanish Civil War and shows a man just a moment after he was fatally shot at. The man was a Republican soldier belonging to the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth. The man in the picture is falling backwards with a rifle slipping out of his right hand. It was first published in the VU magazine on September 23, 1936.
Controversy about this photograph began in 1975 when the claims that the photograph was staged started to surface. And guess what, it was true! A photographer of Robert Capa‘s stature had indeed staged not only this but several other photographs of the Spanish Civil War. A few other photographs in the series taken by Capa showed a broader landscape that would have been around the “Falling Soldier”.
In his 2009 book Sombras de la Fotografía (“Shadows of Photography”) José Manuel Susperregui of the University of País Vasco concluded that this photograph had not been taken at Cerro Muriano, but had actually been taken at another location about 56 kilometers away. Susperregui analyzed other images from the “Falling Soldier” series and concluded that the actual location was Espejo.
In 1996, the man in the photographs was identified as Federico Borrell García by his brother. Borrell’s brother confirmed that his brother died in Cerro Muriano. The Capa supporters took it as the final confirmation that the photograph was genuine. However in 2009 Susperregui challenged this notion by producing an obscure anarchist magazine of the time of the War. The magazine had reported that Borrell was killed when he was taking cover behind a tree. This evidence and the background analysis positively proved that the photograph was staged. Moreover, it is confirmed that there was no battle going on Espejo on September 5, 1936.
Authenticity of the photograph notwithstanding, this is one of Capa’s best and most famous photographs. Capa was renowned for his daring photographs from five wars that he covered. He never hesitated entering battle zones to capture the action going on there. Robert Capa had once famously said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough”.
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