Dasein, Red Elephant.

Truth and Death: Capa’s Falling Soldier


Robert Capa's "Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936." The definitive image of the Spanish Civil War, this picture was first published in the July 1937 issue of Life magazine, with the caption stating, "Robert Capa's camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Córdoba.

Capa's picture might as well be staged (as it was alleged to be by several critics). There is nothing violent or shocking about it. No blood. No look of fear or torture. No mishappened limbs. Just black and white sunlight, a shadowy sky and a look of sublime peace on the face of the falling soldier. He could be falling down, drunk in his casual shirtsleeves from emotional fatigue. The wind in his ears.

Sontag writes in Regarding the Pain of Others:

"We want the photographer to be a spy in the house of love and of death, and those being photographed to be unaware of the camera, "off guard." No sophisticated sense of what photogrpahy is or can be will ever weaken the satisfactions of a picture of an unexpected event seized in mid-action by an alert photographer."

While Capa's ouevre is undoubtably of the 'documentary' intention, this particular picture seems to go beyond the predictable realism of war photography. I can't understand the controversy over the verity of the image. Is it so we can accurately and genuinely develop empathy, without fear of being cheated emotionally?

A man has died, if it was staged.. why should I feel sorrow? Why then, do we feel so acutely the sorrow of actors in films? Why do you weep over Ennis and Jack's tragic love in Brokeback? Do we not know it is staged? A man in Capa's picture has fallen, presumably shot in the head. Should we not give him the benefit of the doubt?

How miserly we can be, with our emotions. Parceling them out, only when all risk is minimized, only when it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Robert Whelan examines the authenticity of Capa's picture. Link


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  1. * Johnny says:

    The soldier was shot from behind. He’s already dead by the time Capa has taken the picture. Many people have debated its authenticity; however the tell tale sign is his left hand…it’s curled which is a good indication that he’s already dead. If the picture was staged, he probably would not have cared to curl his hand, mimicking death.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 8 months ago
  2. * Mick O says:

    Just found this thought-provoking post in a Google search as I read a book about Capa. I just wanted to say: The reason we must care if the photo is real is precisely because we can be affected so deeply by staged events. If we are affected by staged events, those who seek to influence our opinions can stage events to take advantage of our emotional response.


    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  3. * Mick O says:

    One other P.S. — the hand tells us nothing about the authenticity of the shot. As a former football goalie, I can tell you that after only a handful free drops to the ground, you lose your fear of it. If the solders were clowning around and pretending to be shot all afternoon, it would be expected they’d get good at it, and also would have lost the “instinctive” fear of the ground that would cause them to stiffen their hand. I’ve discovered this myself. I’m not saying the shot is fake or real — only that the forensic “evidence” of the hand completely ignores the power of humans to adapt 🙂

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago

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