Sunday, January 27, 2008

Newly-Recovered Capa Negatives in New York City

The great international war photographer Robert Capa was in and out of New York City from World War II until his death; his aura lingers at the Magnum photo agency that he helped to found and at the International Center of Photography (ICP). Now, according to the New York Times, thousands of Capa negatives from the Spanish Civil War--long thought to be destroyed in Paris during World War II--have been delivered to the ICP. There, they can be studied to better understand his career--and perhaps to clear up the lingering controversy around one of his greatest pictures.

As Randy Kennedy describes it in the Times, the story of the negatives is rich in the kind of mystery and drama that surrounded Capa's life. The photographer assumed they were destroyed in Paris after he left the city in 1939; in fact, they were sent to Marseilles and then to Mexico, where they remained for years until they were recently shipped to ICP.

There's no guarantee what we'll learn from the negatives, but perhaps they'll settle claims that Capa's famous "Falling Soldier" photograph of a Loyalist soldier at the moment of his death in the Spanish Civil War was staged. (Richard Whelan, the Capa biographer, makes a good case that the photograph is legitimate.)

Still, more research can't hurt. And there's also the possibility that the negatives will tell us more about the work of Gerda Taro, Capa's companion and fellow photographer who died covering the war in Spain. Both were recently the subjects of exhibits at ICP.

Here's hoping that study of these negatives leads research in interesting directions--and that we get to see prints of them exhibited in public before too long.

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