Image © Cornell Capa/ICP.
The Independent and ArtInfo are both guilty of either too much sensationalism or too little research when it comes to the upcoming Barbican exhibition of Robert Capa’s war photography. For those who haven’t been following along, some writers have argued that Capa’s “Falling Soldier”–maybe the most famous war photograph of all time–was faked. The first and most famous allegation came from Philip Knightley, who argued that a source of his had spoken with Capa at the time the picture was made and that Capa had mentioned that his photographs depicted a dramatic re-enactment, not the battle itself. Kudos to the British press for picking up on this issue, which didn’t get much play in the U.S. when the same exhibition was staged at ICP. Unfortunately, the Brits didn’t get their facts quite right.
It’s true that this exhibition will provide the UK viewing public with the first real opportunity to look at the images Capa made on the same day as “The Falling Soldier.” But these are the same images that the late Richard Whelan already used to refute allegations of fakery some 6 years ago in this great piece of photographic sleuthing. The Independent foggily mentions Whelan doing some kind of research, but neglects to say that he published it–meaning there’s no new argument for authenticity here. What’s more interesting, but less sensational, is that Cynthia Young (who curated the exhibition) is now arguing that Federico Borrell García (the soldier) was likely killed when an exercise or re-enactment prompted enemy fire. If she’s right, that marks a new middle ground between the claims of Knightley and Whelan, and also makes for an sad case in which a re-enactment for the media’s sake may have come a little too close to the real thing.
ADDENDUM: One thing I forgot to mention is that even what I consider the new claim isn’t so “new”–it was mentioned in the catalogue of the ICP exhibit a year ago, and faithfully reported by the NYT, although it was buried beneath a description of the (arguably more important) re-discovery of Gerda Taro.