Sunday, September 23, 2012

Moving Pictures - The Falling Soldier

Since reading Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, which is all about visual representations of pain and suffering and the way we experience the suffering of others via the medium of photography, I've wanted to do a series on some of the career-making photographs mentioned. 

Robert Capa's "The Falling Soldier"  believed to be taken in Cerro Muriano, Spain on September 5, 1936 was first on my list, as I find it absolutely gut wrenching. A soldier, in the exact moment of death from multiple gun shot wounds during the Spanish Civil War. I've massively interested in that period in history and locale (even writing a musical about it) and this really just captures so much emotion to me. 

Not only did this photo make Capa's career (he went on to become one of the most celebrated war photographers of all time) but it has since become one of the most controversial photos in history. In 1975, accusations came that photo was in fact staged. These accusations were often politically charged and leveled by Franco supporting Falangists. Critics pointed to landscape points far in the distance and matched them up with other places, proving it couldn't be what Capa claimed. It went back and forth. The man photographed was finally identified. His brother confirmed his death at Cerro Muriano, but in 2009 further evidence in a journal refuted that testimony. People still don't agree. 

Fake or not, you can't say the photo isn't striking and moving. The way certain dance can move or haunt because you didn't expect the body to move that way. In its own way, it's utterly authentic. What do you think? You can check out the negatives at the International Center of Photography here in NYC. 

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