Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Civil War’
In 1932, Henri Cartier-Bresson set out on a tour of Southern Europe and the Maghreb; this journey with his 35 mm Leica was to be his formative tour that set out the rules of the art for not only the 25-year old photographer but also for a century of photojournalists who followed him.
In Seville in 1933, he took the photo above, later entitled, “Children Playing in Ruins”. Cartier-Bresson was always pithy in descriptions and it was not entirely clear where exactly in the city he took the photo, or how the ruins come to be. His contact sheets reveal that he chose the photos which were among the first he made on that occasion.
There is not much to write about this photo. His usual journalistic eye was at work, depicting youthful vigor sprouting out of decayed detritus. However, soon afterwards, the Spanish Civil War broke out, affecting many cities Cartier-Bresson passed through. Seville was where the first shots were fired, and the photo — with its ruined buildings and crippled children — became associated with the horrors of that war, even though it was made three years earlier.
Andre Breton, the surrealist who was among the first to use photographs in his books, used the photo to illustrate his chapter on the Spanish Civil War as early as 1937 in Mad Love. Many others followed, and even this author believed this was made in the aftermath of the war, not before it.
The blog likes to note there is often no truth in photography. What better photo to illustrate this point that this one used in propaganda by both Communists and Fascists, and in two wars a decade apart.
In the late 1970s, as the gerontocractic fascism of Francisco Franco drew to a close, historians revisited his arrival onto the world stage during the Spanish Civil War, now viewed in retrospect as the Dress Rehearsal for the Second World War. They pointed out the above photo as an evidence of atrocities committed by Franco’s troops on their prisoners of war during the Civil War, an eerie precursor of Fascist crimes to come.
Throughout the Civil War, both sides exploited the power of news media and newly-popular photography, at times using the same photographs. Back in 1938, the above photo was used by the Falange – the Spanish Fascists – to denounce the barbarous nature of the Spanish Republicans. In Corriere della Sera (which toed Mussolini’s line after the removal of its editor Luigi Albertini), it was labelled as the communist International Brigaders holding the heads of Spainish patriots.
The photo, which does look like a poor Photoshop attempt, is often attributed to David Seymour, the future co-founder of Magnum who made his name during the Spanish Civil War. It was not clear who actually took it and it was not even clear when it was taken. In 1938, when L’Humanité, an organ of the French Communist Party, saw the photo, it used it to denounce the French colonial empire in North Africa.
In that aspect, L’Humanité was closer to the truth (but perhaps accidentally). The photo was perhaps taken during the Rif War (1921-1927), when Spanish and French Foreign Legions brutally put down a Berber rebellion in Morroco led by Emir Abd-El-Krim.
The photo first appeared fittingly in Memoires d’Abd-el-Krim, a book whose pedigree was also in doubt. Jacques Roger-Mathieu claimed that the book was dictated to him by Abd-el-Krim onboard the vessel Abda which was to transport the defeated emir to his exile on the island of Réunion. Although, it appeared with a grand subtitle of “la confession ou les confidences”, many now doubt the book’s authenticity, noting it was filled with “absurdities of all sorts, lies, and anachronisms”. As per Roger-Mathieu, the photo depicted Spanish Legionaires with the heads of Rif fighters.
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Agusti Centelle (1909-1985) was considered one of the foremost photojournalist during the Spanish Civil War. Called “Spanish Robert Capa”, he was one of the great image-makers of the Republican resistance during the war. Originally working in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, He exiled himself over the Pyrenees to the Bram refugee camp when his side lost. There in Bram, under extremely difficult conditions, he continued to photograph. When he returned into Spain, he hid several thousand negatives to protect the identities of the revolutionaries from Franco. Only forty years later after Franco died, Centelles returned to France and reclaimed many of his negatives.
His most iconic photo was shown above. Taken in Barcelona on 19 July 1936, it shows the republican forces barricading behind the dead horses. Like Picasso’s anguished horse in Guernica, dead horses and soon-to-be-dead revolutionaries showed the chaos, violence, conflict and suffering unleashed by the civil war. The photo was titled, “Assault Guards in Diputacio Street. Barcelona”. Like Capa’s Loyalist Militiaman, the photo has long be accused of being staged. An exhibition at Centro Cultural Conde Duque in February 2008 confirmed that suspicion by showing the contact strip from which the final work was taken. The image was indeed the best composed and the most convincing of the entire photo-op.
See his other photos here.