Spanish Newspaper Claims “Iconic Capa War Photo Was Staged”

A Spanish Civil War photo by Robert Capa that shows a Republican soldier at the apparent moment he was fatally hit in the back by a bullet was in fact staged, a Spanish newspaper claimed on Friday (here).

“Capa photographed his soldier at a location where there was no fighting,” wrote Barcelona-based newspaper El Periodico which carried out a study of the photograph taken in September 1936, the third month of the war.

The so-called “falling soldier” photo was not taken near Cerro Muriano in the southern Andalusia region, as has long been claimed, but about 50 kilometres (30 miles) away near the town of Espejo, the newspaper said.

via Yahoo! News thanks Mike.

UPDATE: Great narrated video from the Guardian (here).

There Are 58 Comments On This Article.

  1. His original negatives were found some years ago after having been feared lost. They were supposed to have included this images and the promise was that they would finally provide the answer as to whether this was staged or not, but I don’t ever remember hearing anything about the recovered film. Has anyone else?

    • @Ibarionex, the “Mexican suitcase” was recovered and the negatives are being checked over. It seems that they do not support the thesis that the photograph was real.
      Apparently it was common practice to send individual negatives to publishers, so the reels are incomplete.
      I said recently on my blog that we would have to wait to see what fresh evidence might emerge from the Mexican suitcase before it can be finally resolved.

      In May this year the New York International Center for Photography, which houses the Capa archives, reported it could not find the negative for this image in the Mexican suitcase which did contain many Spanish civil war photographs.
      http://ethicalmartini.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/robert-capas-mexican-suitcase/

  2. I’ve heard this before in college photo history class. The problem was the photographers weren’t given access to the front lines but still had to send images of the war home… which often led to them to helping each other out and acting out war scenes for the camera. It’s sad but at the same time, it was important to send some images home and to inform us all of what was happening, even if it was an illustration in many ways…

  3. I read a book in college (10 years ago) that made the claim that the photo was staged. There were actually 2 versions of the photo with the 2 soldiers in different uniforms being shot in the same exact spot.. The author made the argument that there was no way 2 soldiers form opposing armies would be shot in the same spot running in the same direction without the photo being staged. I can’t remember the name of the book though. I found the original spread from the magazine VU Here.

    Another post on the Capa controversy Here.

  4. … Propaganda is propaganda. War or not. Consider the movie, ‘Wag the Dog’, for a ‘fictional’ American’ example …

    I’d be more inclined to know if his Editor knew.

    That’s a pretty BIG secret to have kept ‘covered up’ for so long.
    Capa would have had to have LIED out right, and then LIVED WITH THAT LIE solo for the rest of his life.

    If he was in ‘cohoots’ with ‘the press’ it makes it much more of a ‘propaganda piece’, and also suggests a fair amount of cynical disdain for ‘the masses’ …

  5. Who cares if it is fake!! The fact is it is a great photo regardless of location and acting.

    • @adperry, WOW! you obviously have no truth in reporting ethics. i hope you’re not a photojournalist.

      • @Tim, No im not a photojournalist. I guess in that respect I would have to agree with the majority!!

    • @adperry, I disagree. If it’s a fake photo, it is the opposite of great. If it’s a fake photo it becomes a photo that almost anyone could have taken and is relegated into the rest of the pedestrian-style photos of the day.

      Imagine if that picture had been taken today in Afghanistan and you saw it here. People would want to end the war (right now). But if you found out the image was staged, it would be the antithesis of great.

  6. I know I shouldn’t wade in on this but using a basic tool of investigative journalism, let’s play “follow the money”. So who benefits from raising doubts about the photo’s authenticity?

    Clearly a man died and Capa made his reputation — but that was 70 years ago and Capa has been dead for at least fifty. The photo agency he co-founded , Magnum still exists so discrediting Capa discredits Magnum and by extention all photojournalist.

    Of course some the stupid shenanigans various photojournalists have played recently (I’m not counting the fraud Edgar Martins perpetrated recently as he isn’t a documentarian or photojournalist) do a pretty good job of that without outside help.

    If Capa’s “Falling Soldier” is a document of something that actually happened, at best it was a lucky shot on Capa’s part –as well as by the sniper who pulled the trigger.

  7. A photo was faked before Thomas Knoll was even born? Impossible!

    Geez, I hope the NYT didn’t run that photo back in 1936. They’ll have to retract that one too.

    Seriously, I think there has always been an interpretative gray zone in editorial war photography. I’m not suggesting it’s right, but lots of events have been staged, recreated or just plain made up for propaganda purposes.

    If you think about it Capa would have had to be bloody lucky (the soldier, not so much) to be at exactly the right place to pull off this shot. I don’t claim to be an expert on 1930s vintage film speeds, but could he even get enough shutter speed to get a stop-action shot like this using 1930s gear without lots of supplemental lighting?

    • @Tom,
      Sure. It’s taken in broad sunlight. How much more light would you need? Following Sunny16 that’s about 1/125th at f11 with a “fast” Iso 100 speed film. That’s more than enough to catch this kind of movement.

      Besides, I think no one is arguing that the photo is technically faked.

      • @j., Okay, I’ll buy that on a sunny day it’s a doable shot with 1930s gear. But under real battlefield conditions? Motion blur somewhere in the frame would seem likely. And this was before the advent of motor drive, correct? Even shooting at 10fps, capturing the exact moment someone is hit by a bullet goes way beyond skill. Capturing that moment in a single press of the shutter is simply miraculous. Doing it twice?
        That’s like winning the lottery every week for a year. Logic says this shot was staged in non-battlefield conditions.

        Catching the exact moment a 90mph fast ball comes in contact with a bat is still a tough shot to get with 2009 vintage gear. And you know when the pitcher is going to release the ball and you know the target. And, oh yeah, no one is shooting at you.

        • @Tom,
          Leicas in the 30s went up to 1/1000th and even 1/500th is more than plenty to capture movement and avoid motion blur.

          But enough of the technical gear talk now.

          No one would argue that this shot was a matter of skill. It’s pure luck. Only because someone is a good photographer doesn’t mean that every single thing comes down to skill (unless it was staged, of course).

          I don’t know about that second image as it’s very small. It doesn’t look like the guy was photographed at the moment of being shot.

          Anyways, I don’t think it really matters. Also, a while back there was a rumour that the contact sheets revealed that the guy was posing with his rifle for Capa in the previous frames and then seemed to have been shot out of the blue. Just a rumour, of course.

        • Mr. Sheldrake

          > Okay, I’ll buy that on a sunny day it’s a doable shot with >1930s gear. But under real battlefield conditions? Motion >blur somewhere in the frame would seem likely. And this >was before the advent of motor drive, correct? Even >shooting at 10fps etc

          I think you would be shocked to see how fast a really experienced photographer can operate a manual camera. In some cases faster than someone with the latest wiz bang DSLR. These guys were and had to be really, really good, because they didn’t have the luxury of the the automated crutch shooters have today.

          • @Mr. Sheldrake, Understand. I grew up using a Nikon F2 — before AF and automatic modes. You learn how to use the technology you have to work with. And Capa was using the best technology available at the time. I’m just saying that armed with the best technology available today (2009), the shot would still be very challenging and getting it would be more luck than skill. Getting two such shots stretches credibility in my book.

            • Mr. Sheldrake

              @Tom,

              I agree that if the shot is real, then there was a certain amount of ‘luck’ involved in being in the right place and the right time, with the camera pointed in the right direction at the right time. I hate to use the word ‘luck’, because this shot may involve a person being killed.

              In this case I think it may actually be harder or impossible to nail this shot with a modern AF camera. You couldn’t focus and recompose or switch focus points fast enough to get it, even if you placed the person at the center of the frame. I think you really would have to be shooting with a manual focus lens, set to f8 or f16 and using scale focusing. That way you would only need to frame and press the shutter fast enough.

  8. Sorry… but I think that that this article did not say ANYTHING about NOTHING! and is not about take one side or another (is a fake and staged picture or not?), but i think that there is a much more consistent research in a book of Richard Wheelan, called “This is war”.

  9. Ibarionex: the negs that were found didn’t have the photo in question, unfortunately. But I thought this whole thing had been laid to rest, and Capa cleared, some years ago. The article Ian Martin linked is exactly the evidence I’m thinking of.

  10. And at the risk of repeating myself, it’s a very ugly thing to say that a photojournalist staged a photo. Sure, it happens. But if you’re going to accuse someone of committing a falsehood like that, you had better be 100% sure of your claim and be able to back it up with solid evidence as that accusation could be a career-ender for the accused.

  11. Shouldn’t the headline on this be more in the form of a question or at least saying it’s a “claim”?

    “authenticity of iconic Capa war photo in dispute once again”.

    Perhaps?

  12. Kudos to Capa… I hope he did stage it, thats what I would have done. Ethical journalism is a joke.. The mere fact of a photographer being there in a situation totally changes a scenario thats there. If your going to comment on ethics in journalism you should look at the bigger picture, like how 5 companies own 99% of all media in america, like that doesn’t skew the vision and opinions of the public.

    • @Dan Busta, I’m guessing that you’re an ‘art’ photographer. The fact that you admit you would fake it, makes you much worst than those 5 media companies of which you’re so critical.

      So, are you really saying that you have no problem constructing a lie with your work?

      • @Tim, its not so much a lie, but a communication.. if you look journalist writers they inflate the truth all the time, and most of early photography had to be set up because of technology restrictions.. also look at military photographers.. every single image has to be checked at the pentagon before they are released.. trust me we are not getting the real stories set up or not.

        • @Dan Busta, as a matter of communication, it’s important to build a trust with your public. That trust is built by telling the truth. I agree that it’s a problem that most media is controlled by a few companies. That in itself, in my opinion, has ethical issues. I also believe that it’s a major reason for the failure of so many newspapers. It’s a problem when a media company focuses on pleasing shareholders more than communicating important stories to the public.

          I’ve been a documentary photojournalist for over 20 years. I can only speak from my own experience, that it’s important that my viewers are able to feel what I was feeling at the time I captured an image. Therefore, it’s important that, that image be authentic, and now a figment of my interpretation of the situation.

          Some of us still believe in honesty in our journalistic images. I’ve always said that it’s impossible for me to be objective. As a human being, I obviously have my opinions. It is important, however, that I tell stories as objectively as I possibly can. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.

      • @Tim,
        I think what he’s saying is that the “truth in journalism” is just the one that journalism itself constructs and that 5 companies hold the monopoly on the “truth” nowadays.

        Besides, why would it be a lie if it was staged? Did soldiers not get shot in the spanish civil war??

        • @j., “Besides, why would it be a lie if it was staged? Did soldiers not get shot in the spanish civil war??”

          Let’s use this same logic to go to Iraq, gather a bunch of 55 gallon drums, label them as sarin gas and takes pictures to prove that the war was justified because Saddam really did have ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Ok, a bit more dramatic example of your argument, but can you see how dangerous it is to construct a situation based on what we ‘think’ is true?

          Just stick to documenting what we see and allow others to form their opinions based on our presentations.

          • @Tim,
            Evidently photographic proof (or any other) is not required to start a war.

            But I think you’re not getting the point. The picture shows a man getting shot in the head. That’s the whole message. His identity is of no interest (unless you’re his wife and kids) so it doesn’t really matter if that guy really died so long as at least one soldier died in that war.

            But of course I know that it matters. The fascination with the photograph comes from the excitement of witnessing the moment of a persons death and the assumed luck of the photographer. If it’s staged that it becomes a rather boring movie still kind of shot.

            Ultimately I really don’t care that much and if I did I’d hope that it was staged. Maybe the guy got to live a long life instead of dying for our entertainment.

  13. Perhaps the infamous Mexican Suitcase holds the truth. Remember there are those who still believe that the anniversary celebrated today- the moon landing, is a hoax.

    Nothing like a good mystery! Viva Capa!

  14. this one gets dragged out every other year. when can this finally be laid to rest? probably never. why? not because of the story of the soldier, the war, Capa or whatever. those dont matter anymore, are just a note in history. but the creation of the image is a mystery. noone knows, noone lives to tell. and it will stay that way. people like mysteries.
    so some journalists keep writing about the mystery again and again. after all this has a more high-profile touch than writing about Loch Ness or the Yeti..

  15. If your pictures aren’t good enough … fake ‘em :-)

    Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ heavily retouched.
    Ansel Adams a master of dodging and burning in the darkroom.
    Capa’s ‘Death of a Loyalist Soldier’ maybe a fake …

    What’s up with the grand old masters and their most iconic images ??? :-)

    There exists a codex, an unwritten contract between the photographer and the viewer : the image MUST reflect the truth !!!
    At least it should be that way …

    Btw, as dicussed above … a shot like this one is even easier done with old equipment … guess why?

    Or just ask a street photographer like Joel Meyerowitz or ‘good old boys’ like Jürgen Schadeberg , etc… why they still work with rangefinders (although they own digital equipment as well)
    Or any sports- or action photographer of the pre-AF-area …
    Or ask James RUSSELL, he sometimes posts here (James RUSSELL, NOT Russell JAMES … )

    Cheers, reini

    • @Reinfried Marass, I was out for brunch last autumn in Park Slope, Brooklyn and did indeed see Joel Meyerowitz with a Leica M8 walking along with friends.

      • Hi David,
        sure, did you think I tell you nuts *lol
        Anyway, thanks for the confirmation.

        There is even a youtube video availbale showing him at work (leica rangefinder included *g) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qjym5uliDw

        (For all readers who weren’t out for lunch last autumn in Brooklyn *smile)

        If you like you could also read James Russell’s essay about his lave-hate-affair with a Leica M8 digi rangefinder here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qjym5uliDw.

        It’s short and sweet and funny to read. Thereafter you could navigate to his website and folio trying to tell which ones have been done with the leica (hint: the more charming ones *g)

        It’s common sense that sometimes non-dslr cams (e.g. rangefinders) are a better match for some type of photography (e.g. street photography, sometimes documentary, etc…).
        Unfortunately there aren’t any useful digital tools available to do the job, imho. The Epson is more a fun-thingo and the Leica M8 digital is … hm, well … :-)

        ok, a bit offtopic …

        Cheers, Reini

  16. D McCauley

    I remember this myth being debunked a long time ago. In fact Cornell Capa went to great length to have this myth debunk, as he was an ardent defender of his brother. I fully believe the Spanish soldier photograph to be truthful considering that with a 1930’s Leica you most certainly could capture an image like this; of course this was a lucky capture which is what makes it so great a photo; Robert had absolutely no need to fake such a photo when he already had many astounding photos from the Spanish civil war. Cornell went to lengths to prove the identity of the man kill and location of his death, which proved to match the photo.

    And lastly, though I may have my facts wrong about this, but I believe the story was that the soldiers were not on the front line. Robert had ask them to run through some training exercises so he could take some photos and while doing so they were taken off guard by enemy fire. This resulting in this soldier being killed and Capa taking the photo simultaneously. Luck shot for Capa, not for the soldier. And it is quite plausible that the soldier was shot, fell/ rolled further downhill since he was already heading in that direction, and the second soldier came over the hill and was shot in the same spot in which the sniper still had his sights set. Speculation on my part of course, but I would rather give the man some credit than discredit him without substantial evidence. Maybe Oliver Stone should make a movie about the photo.

  17. I think the staging of the photo is already proved since the site wasn’t a battlefield (they were at least 15 km. away from closest enemy fire) and on that date there were no battles.

    Anyway, although I tend to reject this kind of “fakes” when claiming to “inform” people, let’s don’t forget that back in the ’30s this pictures were probably the only way people across the globe would learn about the war in Spain. Nowadays there’s no excuse for staging pictures, when you can literally put cameras on missiles to film while bombs are dropped.

    So while he was faking it his effect as an iconic portrait of the horror of war was positive.

    It’s like the picture of the vulture after the somalian girl…she wasn’t dying on that spot, she was doing her needs and the vulture was waiting to eat the depositions….yet it became an icon against famine..

  18. The most hard argument i found about the stage of Capa’s photo was one mentioned by Susan Sontag about the publication of two shots similar of the one we discuss. I found a brief in Paco Elvira blog but for some reason i can not paste here. Is doubtful that Capa can get two dying men in the moment they were shot, if one is difficult image two. The omission of this second soldier in posterior publications stand up suspects. Is interesting the relationship with Eugene Smith manipulation adding a silhouette of a hand saw in a photo and the fact that he changed the direction of the eyes of an old woman in the famous picture of the Aldea Espanola essay. Both photographers are icons of the photojournalism. I can understand in certain mode with the explanation of Smith, he want to tell the true (his true) and only want to see the copy. The only thing that matters is comunicate what they think was the true, be effective. Curiously the last month a compatriot won the Burn magazine grant for documentary proyects. The photos are gorgeous but staged. The explanation of David Allan Harvey was that posed or not maybe this essay can have effect on it purpose. What worry me is the misunderstanding of this examples for people that only want be sucessful. This is very possible as one can see with the case of the french photographer that win the Paris Match award with staged photos made deliberately to put in ridiculous the style of this magazine.
    As corollary we can see that the third price of the portrait categorie of the World Press Photo is a series of staged war photos made with toy soldiers. Obviously is included a copy of the classic shot of Capa. I never felt so ingenuous.

  19. If indeed there is any blame to be attributed it should of course be to to the publisher.
    It’s an old saying in Fleet Street “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”

  20. José Manuel

    Dear Sirs:
    I´m sending this post to report that the real discoverer of Espejo as the place where Robert Capa made his famous Falling Soldier picture along with the skyline of mountains as the key element of location was Professor José Manuel Susperregui.

    The first to report on this discovery from Spain was Giles Tremlett in The Observer on Sunday 14th June 2009:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/14/robert-capa-spain-photography

    The real discoverers that the militiaman is not Federico Borrell García were Miguel Pascual Mira and the documentary film La Sombra del Iceberg (Hugo Domenech and Raul Riebenbauer).

    And the real verifier of Susperregui´s finding was elrectanguloenlamano on June 16th 2009 in Espejo, which was published in elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com on July 1st 2009:

    http://elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com/2009/07/robert-capa-in-cerro-muriano-and-espejo.html

    In pictures 02 and 07 appear the olive trees covered slope around
    Espejo village (in 1936 covered by wheat), and besides, elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com was the first to identify the white colour houses appearing in the background of the picture in which five militiamen with one knee on the wheat covered slope (page 77 of the extraordinary ICP/STEIDL catalogue book This is War! Robert capa at War) and also on top right in the background of the last picture of the Falling Soldier photograph series (page 85 of the aforementioned catalogue book).

    These two photographs – along with 38 more unknown till now – were
    unveiled by ICP during the great itinerant exhibition This is War! Robert Capa at Work held in New York, London, Milan and Barcelona.

    And this identification made by elrectanguloenlamano on June 16th 2009 has been a key factor to verify Professor Susperregui´s finding.

    Truth is that El Periódico de Catalunya and Ernest Alós haven´t discovered anything new regarding the Falling Soldier picture, though they have been proclaiming to the world since July 17th that “THEY HAVE MADE A HISTORICAL FINDING”, that “THIS NEWSPAPER HAS BEEN ABLE TO LOCATE THE PLACE”, that “THE SOLUTION OF THE MILITIAMAN PICTURE BY CAPA MADE BY EL PERIODICO DE CATALUNYA HAS DAZZLED THE EXPERTS”, that
    “ALL THE EXPERTS COINCIDE WITH THEIR EXPLANATIONS”, etc.

    On the other hand, it is not true that “El Periódico de Catalunya deep study of the new 40 pictures of the This is War! Robert Capa at Work MNAC exhibition in Barcelona has enabled the world to know the truth”.

    These pictures were previously present in New York, London and Milan, and obviously, they were already studied by more people.

    For example, elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com published on June 21st 2009 a very comprehensive study, picture by picture, of the new photographs unveiled by the ICP of New York during the itinerary of This is War! Robert Capa at Work exhibition in New York, London, Milan, etc, and after watching the new 40 pictures unveiled by the ICP – including the 21 black and white contacts from the original existing negatives of the Falling Soldier series – we proved a month ago that there weren´t any Francoist troops attacking the militiamen while Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were taking the photographs, until unexpectedly the first militiaman was really instantly killed by a 7 x 57 mm bullet shot by a sniper.

    And evidently, there were people before elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com suggesting or expressing their certainty that there weren´t real combats, even years before the unveiling of the new 40 pictures by ICP, for example José María Hernansáez in Revista Española de Historia Militar July/August 2006 and many others, a praiseworthy text, above all bearing in mind that he had to work studying only very few pictures.

    We haven´t ever conceived Capa´s Falling Soldier research as a race of any kind and I went to Espejo on June 16th 2009 not searching for any personal glory of anything but just the opposite: to verify my error, because I´ve been convinced that Capa made the pictures in
    Cerro de La Coja for a lot of years. And I was wrong.

    My error was big, very big. 50 km of difference, and it´s clear that “I´ve lost the game” and that “I didn´t make it”.

    No problem in such regard. So is life and I do accept my defeat.

    In any case, I think that elrectanguloenlamano has also made a significant contribution with the 9th Part of our research to prove that neither Robert Capa nor Gerda Taro tried to deceive future observers of the 40 pictures + the already known into believe that there were rebel troops attacking and also verifying Professor Susperregui´s important discovery of Espejo as the place where Capa made his most famous picture. There mustn´t be any doubt in this respect. The skyline with the mountains has been the starting key factor for the placing in Espejo and the historical merit of this finding belongs to him and not to others.

    We do believe that the two real deaths were provoked by 7 x 57 mm caliber shots made by a sniper. The first death is instant and the second one within some minutes.

    On the other hand, here is the link with our research of the new pictures:

    http://elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com/2009/06/robert-capa-in-cerro-muriano-day-in_21.html

    But to sum up, I also think that from a global perspective, probably my only contribution to this topic of the Falling Soldier research has been sweat, sweat and sweat. I fought to my physical limit and I´m convinced that new evidence will appear in future
    enhancing the authenticity of the Death of a Loyalist Militiaman picture and the great talent and honesty of Robert Capa as the best
    war photographer of all time.

    Yours sincerely:

    José Manuel Serrano Esparza

    Leica Historical Society of America