domingo, 1 de agosto de 2010


Text and Indicated Photographs: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Gerda Taro in Paris in 1935. © ICP New York. Gift donated by Cornell and Edith Capa.

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Today is the Centenary of the Birth of Gerda Taro, one of the most significant pioneers of war photojournalism. A daughter of Polish emigrés from Jewish descent, she was brought to life in Stuttgart (Germany) on August 1, 1910 and died in the Hospital of El Escorial on July 26, 1937 as a consequence of the injuries suffered the previous day on being accidentally rolled up by a Republican tank during the Battle of Brunete when along with Ted Allan - the political commissar of the blood transfusion unit of Dr. Norman Bethune - was standing on the running-board of Republican General Walter´s car (who didn´t go inside the vehicle at that moment, since the back seat was occupied by three wounded Republican soldiers).

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza


Photo: Robert Capa. © Cornell Capa / Magnum Photos

Photograph taken by Robert Capa on September 5, 1936 in the Finca of Villa Alicia, around 1 km in the southwest of Cerro Muriano village, approximately between 11:30 h and 12:00 h of midday.

Gerda Taro´s face is on the extreme left middle border of the image, whose original 35 mm negative was exposed by Capa with his Leica II (Model D) and Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens.

Photo: Robert Capa. © Cornell Capa / Magnum Photos

Enlargement of the left half of the picture.

Gerda Taro is on far left of the image. She is looking upwards in the direction of the man speaking from an elevated position. Taro is very concentrated, listening with great attention to the encouraging speech addressed to the surrounding militiamen by that man -probably an anarchist chief of CNT or FAI- who is wearing a militiaman overalls.

The man wearing a military cap and glasses who appears occuping the middle lower area of the frame is captain Castañeda, one of the top military commanders loyal to the Republic and present in Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936 during the attack of Francoist troops with three columns under the global command of General Varela.

Map of the area in which can be seen Torreárboles hill, the finca of Villa Alicia, the Cortijo of Villa Alicia, Las Malagueñas hill, the Cerro de La Coja and the village of Cerro Muriano.

A much larger map of the area encompassing the city of Córdoba (16 km in the south of Cerro Muriano), Torreárboles hill, the Finca of Villa Alicia, the Cortijo of Villa Alicia, Las malagueñas hill, the Cerro de La Coja, the village of Cerro Muriano, the Obejo Train Station and the village of El Vacar.

The stress is maximum, since at this moment the Finca of Villa Alicia is a highly dangerous zone, since it is adjacent to the north side of Torreárboles hill (692 m) through which it is expected that Varela´s legionnaries (whose left column under the command of major Sagrado is already fighting against the Republican forces defending the south side of Torreárboles hill) try as soon as possible the encircling manoeuver, without forgetting the risk that the dreaded Moroccan Tabors of Regulares of colonel Sáenz of Buruaga´s right column try to implement an integral encircling manoeuver encompassing the north areas of both Las Malagueñas and Torreárboles hills, by means of their capacity of steady very wide stretching of the front line with exceedingly swift movements and a combination of different attack directions.

The effectives of this right column of the Francoist attack under the command of colonel Sáenz of Buruaga - and whose spearhead is a tabor of Regulares of Melilla headed by major López Guerrero, the Squadron of Regulares of Ceuta nº 3 and the Squadron of regulares of Alhucemas (both of them headed by major Gerardo Figuerola) - have already taken positions near the Cerro de La Coja and the Córdoba Copper Company facilities, intentionally showing off at a certain distance in order to fix the little contingents of Republican militiamen located there protecting the access to the village of Cerro Muriano across the Camino de Los Pañeros in its area by Piedra Horadada.

Notwithstanding, the main target of these very fierce Moroccan troops of Tabor of Regulares is Las Malagueñas Hill (where the Republican advanced command post in the area is - in a little old palace called Casa de Las Malagueñas- along with the most selected loyalist troops under the command of major Juan Bernal), located approximately 1,5 km in the south of the Cerro de La Coja, and whose north side they will try to encircle launching an attack around 13:00 h.

Id est, this right column of the Francoist attack under the command of colonel Sáenz of Buruaga (which has advanced during the previous night from the city of Córdoba following northeast direction until reaching Alcolea, and from here has gone on its march with north direction across the zone between Arroyo del Guadalbarbo and Arroyo Yegüeros, arriving at Clavellina hill (448 m) and following the Camino de Los Pañeros as a marching axle until reaching the area near the Cerro de La Coja and the foundries and washeries of the Córdoba Copper Company facilities) is the most important for the further capture of Cerro Muriano, since its mission is to fulfill the encircling manoeuver across the north side of Las Malagueñas hill, so complementing the frontal attack which the central Francoist column with 300 men under the command of major Alvarez Rementería is launching against the south side of it from approximately 9:00 h in the morning.

To add even more dramatism to the moment in which Capa makes this picture on whose middle left border Gerda Taro appears, within hardly one hour there will be a very violent clash between the anarchist militiamen of CNT and FAI from Alcoy (the famous Alcoyanos) and Moroccan troops of Tabor of Regulares of Sáenz of Buruaga´s column on horse, when the latter try to make a sortie towards the hill of Las Malagueñas through the ravine separating the Cerro de La Coja and the beginning of the slope of that strategic hill, a moment in which the Alcoyanos will go for them en masse with great stoutness, shooting a great deal of sustained rifle fire and managing to stop the onslaught of the Moroccan soldiers, forcing them to stay still on their positions for some hours, preventing them from encircling, which will slow the advance of the other two Francoist columns during a good part of the day.

The Republican group of combatants visible in the image is an eclectic mixture of anarchist militiamen of CNT and FAI, Andalusian militiamen clad in typical attire of the area, a regular soldier loyal to the Republic appearing with his metallic helmet on, etc.

Therefore, vast majority of these men are anarchist militiamen coming from the most various common occupations of the civil society, who are going to fight within a very short time against the cream of the dreaded African Army, very professional and ruthless troops featuring a long combat experience in colonnial war in Morocco.

Anxiety is reflected in the face of a high percentage of the militiamen, who have already been reported about the type of Francoist troops who are going to attack them soon. They are aware about the huge risk and high probability of death, but they´ve chosen to stay there to fight.

Gerda Taro is astonished. She is detecting parallel feelings of fear, uncertainty, courage, rage, etc, and is looking at the man speaking to the militiamen doing his best to convey them spirit before combat. This context powerfully draws the attention of the photojournalist, who also guesses the proximity of death, it all being framed by the echo of the shells, machine gun fire and rifle volleys which are already being shot by both Francoist and Republican forces already fighting in the south side of Torreárboles Hill.

On his turn, captain Castañeda is with his head low, thoughtful, standing very near the man on an elevated position making the plucking up courage speech to the militiamen. He knows that sooner or later they will be wiped out, because it is a very uneven fight, for the troops of the Army of Africa are very professional and the men to whom the harangue is being directed are essentially armed civilians, with only a smattering of guns handling, and fighting for their ideas. He fears a shambles and he isn´t wrong, although the Republican militiamen will prevent the Francoist troops from performing the encircling manoeuver until late evening of this day.

This way, both this picture and the rest made by Capa and Taro in Cerro Muriano area on September 5, 1936 do prove that the two photojournalists jeopardized their lives to be able to take the images, to such an extent that they even were sometimes at a few hundred meters from the combats.

Cornell Capa, Robert Capa´s brother and founder of the International Center of Photography in 1974, gave the order to zealously guard and protect with life if it was necessary the only existing copy of a picture of Gerda Taro made by Fred Stein in Paris in 1936. Even, in the back of this photograph he wrote: Unique Print / Guard with Life!

The elapse of time has proved that he was right, and this unique copy has been very important for the identification of Gerda Taro in the aforementioned picture made by Capa on September 5, 1936 in the Finca de Villa Alicia, in the southwest of the village of Cerro Muriano, for it is an image depicting Gerda Taro´s face few months before September 5, 1936, without forgetting another picture which has likewise been vital for the identification of Gerda Taro among the militiamen, namely, the photograph made by Capa and appeared in the magazine Regards of October 15, 1936 (barely 40 days after September 5, 1936) to illustrate an article written by the German emigré Lydia Lambert.

Moreover, in 1999, Cornell Capa had the generosity of donating the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía of Madrid the great collection of 205 photographs taken by Robert Capa (albeit the researchs implemented by Richard Whelan, Irme Schaber and Kristen Lubben, along with the recent investigations by have proved that some of the pictures attributed to Capa were really made by Taro) during the Spanish Civil War, in the form of high quality 38,8 x 46,8 cm gelatin silver prints made on baryta photographic papers, one of which - the one previously shown in which there is a man addressing an encouraging speech to a group of Republican militiamen, and Gerda Taro´s face is visible on middle far left of the image - has been decisive for the identification of Gerda Taro among the militiamen on a zone of top risk in the Finca of Villa Alicia on September 5, 1936.

Richard Whelan was also a catalyst for the arrival of that collection to the CARS of Madrid in 1999, also making an unforgettable speech on Capa´s work on May 25, 2009 also in the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía of Madrid.

But evidently, the quoted discoveries made during the last three years have outstandingly increased, even more, the category of Gerda Taro as a photographer, because thanks above all to the researchs fulfilled by Irme Schaber (the greatest authority on Gerda Taro in the world and preeminent biographer of her with books like Gerda Taro Fotoreporterin im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg from Editorial Jonas Verlag für Kunst und Literatur GMBH published in 1994, Gerda Taro published in 2007 by ICP/Steidl Publishing, Gerda Taro: Una Fotografa Rivoluzionaria nella Guerra Civile Spagnola, etc), Richard Whelan and Kristen Lubben (Associate Curator of the ICP New York who has deeply studied Gerda Taro´s work, including the features of her photographic style and her way to make pictures) we know currently that Gerda Taro performed a much more remarkable role than it was thought for decades, because aside from the photographs she made during the Spanish Civil War which were already credited for her, there are some pictures attributed to Robert Capa and Chim that were really made by Gerda Taro, all of which they explain painstakingly in the great book Gerda Taro published by ICP / Steidl in 2007 and on whose front cover you can see a picture made by Gerda Taro to a militiaman woman rehearsing the use of a revolver on a Barcelona beach in August of 1936.
Irme Schaber has devoted almost 20 years of her life to the thorough study of the figure of Gerda Taro as a photojournalist and human being alike. Already in 1994, sixteen years ago, she published the book Gerta Taro Fotoreporterin im spanischen Bürgerkrieg.

The wide assortment of books written by Irme Schaber, maximum expert in the world on Gerda Taro, have been translated into many languages with a remarkable sales success and have been highly instrumental in enhancing the interest for the photojournalist born on August 1, 1910 in Stuttgart, whose Centenary is celebrated this year 2010.

Gerda Taro, a masterpiece book and the most comprehensive publication made until now on Gerda Taro´s photographic production. Edited by Irme Schaber, Kristen Lubben and Richard Whelan, fruit of many years of hard work, photographic passion and remarkable knowledge, it was published by ICP / Steidl in late 2007 shortly after the demise of the Maestro, and became a best seller practically from the very moment of its launching. Lavishly illustrated with pictures made by Gerda Taro during the Spanish Civil War and reproduced with very high quality, it also includes pages and front covers of the magazines where her images appeared, some portraits made to Gerda Taro in different periods of her life and different significant documents related to Gerda Taro´s photojournalistic activity, without forgetting the excellent texts of the chapters "The Eye of Solidarity: The Photographer Gerda Taro and her Work during the Spanish Civil War. 1936-1937" written by Irme Schaber and "Identifying Taro´s Work: A Detective Story" made by Richard Whelan, both of them a great information source for those people interested in Gerda Taro´s life and work, including the highly detailed study of some pictures attributed to Robert Capa until 2007 which were really made by Gerda Taro, who was decisive in the beginning of Capa´s international career as a professional photographer.

Both this catalogue book devoted to Gerda Taro and the This is War! Robert Capa at Work one, were the two reference books of the historical worldwide itinerant exhibition This is War! Robert Capa at War that has been held till now between 2007 and 2010 in New York, London, Milan, Barcelona, Rotterdam and Madrid.

On her turn, Teresa Engle Moreno and Igor Bakht were the master printers who made the 38,8 x 48, 8 cm baryta prints for the aforementioned late nineties exhibition Fotografías de Robert Capa sobre la Guerra Civil Española of the collection of the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía of Madrid, sometimes from original negatives and other times from existing vintage copies.

The great work of Teresa Engle Moreno drawing maximum feasible detail from the copy negative of the original vintage copy of this image in which Gerda Taro appears with a lot of militiamen around midday of September 5, 1936 in the Cortijo of Villa Alicia (around 1 km in the southwest of Cerro Muriano village), and which was made along with the other 201 pictures for the aforementioned exhibition of the Madrid CARS in 1999, has been fundamental for the identification, since her great expertise as a printer of both vintage original negatives and copy negatives made from copies on paper, enabled her to get all the possible level of detail in the photograph made by Capa in which Gerda Taro´s face can be seen on the extreme left of the image.

This same picture appears on page 85 of the excellent book Robert Capa Photographic Work of Editorial Phaidon, written by Richard Whelan. The image features a lot of quality, but Gerda Taro´s face, located on the middle far left extreme of the frame is cut by its half, while in the copy made by Teresa Engle Moreno (one of the best black and white printers in the world along with Voja Mitrovic, Georges Fevre, Igor Bakht, David Vestal, Nathalie Lopparelli, Bruce Barnbaum, Dominique Granier, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, Giulietta Verdon-Roe, Pablo Inirio, etc), the great master printer of the ICP New York has worked up to the very boundary of the left border of the negative and has managed to practically reproduce all of Gerda Taro´s face (which is probably at that moment holding her medium format 6 x 6 cm Rolleiflex camera with her hands - while the militiaman standing by her is looking at the photojournalist with curiosity- and perhaps waiting to make some picture of the man making the speech) with all the feasible detail under conditions of maximum difficulty, because on one hand, Taro´s face is on the extreme left of the image and on the other hand the black and white film used by Capa is the 35 mm Kodak Panchromatic Nitrate featuring a sensitivity of approximately ISO 40 (in that period Weston scale was used), so the grain of the monochrome emulsion is very visible.

´ Whether a still image or a moving image, we need to record what´s happened in the world and we need to look at it, because we live in a very visual world. We access most of our information through images and we need to keep on recording the horrors that mankind does to itself ´.

´ It´s very sad to think that after seventy years, people see less than they did seventy years ago, and yet we have digital TVs, we have embedded reporters, we have an explosion of electronic media, and yet, we know less and we see less ´.

´ They came to Spain as lovers, sharing their passion for photography, their passion for each other and a mutual danger of death ´.

´ She was in many ways his muse, she in many ways launched his career, acting as his agent and his manager ´.

Alex Kershaw
Gerda Taro tomb in Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Text and Colour Photographs inscribed in the Territorial Registry of the Intellectual Property of Madrid.
Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA

Other articles on Gerda Taro:

Gerda Taro in Brunete Battle and Last Pictures Taken by the Photojournalist before Being Run Over by a Tank on July 25, 1937

Two More Pictures Made by Gerda Taro in Cerro Muriano and Unknown Till Now Discovered and Located: Moments of PreDeath

Cerro Muriano: A New Photograph Made by Capa or Gerda Taro on September 5, 1936 Found and Located

Cerro Muriano: Identification and Location of Five More Photographs Made by Capa and Taro and Appeared in the 24/10/1936 Illustrated London News

Valsequillo (Córdoba): Gerda Taro Early July 1937. Locations of the Photographs and Identification of the Photojournalist in one of the Images

Cerro Muriano: Discovered and Located a New Photograph Made by Robert Capa on September 5, 1936. Moments of PreDeath ( I I )