jueves, 20 de octubre de 2011

LA GRANJUELA (CÓRDOBA): GERDA TARO JUNE 1937

Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
SPANISH VERSION

It´s 5:00 h in the morning. 74 years later. 

                            Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

A sepulchral silence covers the streets of a little village of Córdoba province, which was the scenery of tremendous battle during the Spanish Civil War. 

                            Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Gerda Taro and Robert Capa were here,

                            Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

in La Granjuela, in late June 1937, almost three months after the capture of the village by part of the Chapaiev Battalion, belonging to the XIII International Brigade (summing up 389 voluntary men and rather eclectic as to the nationality of its combatants - coming from a total of 21 different countries-, above all Germans, Poles, Austrian, Swiss, Dutch, Hungarian, Czech, Swedes, Danes, Yugoeslavian, French, Italian, Luxembourg, Ukrainian, Belgian, Russian, Greek, Brasilian and Spaniards, though the main core was set up by 79 Germans, 67 Poles, 59 Spaniards and 41 Austrians) on April 5, 1937. 

 The visit had its origin in the assignment that Richard de Rochemond (Director of the European Section of Henry Luce´s The March of Time newsreel) made to Robert Capa during the latter´s stay in Paris in mid May 1937, in which he asked him and Gerda Taro to photograph and film a reenactment as faithful as possible to the real events of the fierce fight which had taken place in La Granjuela - one month and a half before this meeting in the French capital- between the Francoist troops and the voluntary combats of the Chapaiev Battalion. Therefore, both Gerda Taro (with two 35 mm rangefinder Leicas) and Capa (with a Bell & Howell Eyemo A-71 motion picture camera) headed to a location near Peñarroya, where was the headquarters of Chapaiev battalion, arriving at this rich mining village on June 24, 1937, meeting there Alfred Kantorowicz, the political comissar of the unit, subsequently marching to La Granjuela, a village of the Guadiato Valley area (Córdoba) to fulfill the job that Richard de Rochemont had requested them.

The pictures made by Gerda Taro capture four different types of contexts:

a) 6 photographs with combatants of the Chapaiev Battalion in a small camp which is not a headquarters but a defensive position with little trenches and tents located on the north outskirts of La Granjuela, in the zone of oak trees nearest to the road linking La Granjuela with Valsequillo (so defending with rifles and machine guns the north access to the village of La Granjuela from possible attacks made by Francoist troops coming above all from Sierra Trapera, a very disputed area throughout most of the war),


                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

something very common in the distribution of Republican forces in the zone, whose commanders deemed that the triangle La Granjuela-Valsequillo-Los Blázquez was essential as an operating base to launch attacks on Peñarroya-Pueblo Nuevo and its veryy wealthy mining basin (which had been in the hands of the Francoist troops since October 13, 1936, when it was taken by means of the combined attack of Gómez Cobián column and the encircling manoeuver performed by colonel Sáenz of Buruaga with his column of Moroccan troops of Tabor of Regulares, with the lieutenant colonel Alvarez Rementeria entering Pueblo Nuevo shortly after), so strong defensive positions with machine guns were often set up in the purlieus of the villages, beside the main access ways and roads, trying to hinder as much as possible the transfer of Francoist effectives to the combat fronts on trucks, specially the feared Moroccan Tabors of Regulares, to which the Chapaiev Battalion captured some soldiers in 1937. 

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

We see some pictures made by Gerda Taro in which some men of Chapaiev Battalion appear located in trenches, reading letters and eating by bottles of wine, smoking, talking in lively conversation, etc.

b) 27 photographs in which Gerda Taro photographs the destroyed streets and houses of La Granjuela, with debris everywhere, 


                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

and also the Chapaiev Battalion men either resting by utterly ravaged abodes as a result of the battle which had happened two months and a half before,

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

likewise capturing the voluntary fighters advancing across the main arteries of the village, also surrounded by houses literally reduced to rubble or very spoilt, with impacts of rifle bullets, machine gun burst and light artillery shells visible on their walls.

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

Some of the dwellings show holes made by bullets of different calibers, its timber beams are in the open air and a high percentage of its bricks structure is perceptible, with constant presence of a great quantity of debris on the ground reaching remarkable height and proving that their inhabitants have left them.

The combatants of the Chapaiev Battalion are photographed by Gerda Taro sitting in group next to the destroyed houses 


                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

or on top of their rubbles, chatting, reading letters and sometimes cleaning their weapons.

There´s also a picture in which four of Chapaiev men play with a dog. 


                             Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

c) The reenactment of the onslaught of the Chapaiev men, made up by 29 photographs made by Gerda Taro and being the most well-known assortment of pictures. It begins with two photographs in which we can see some Chapaiev battalion fighters reenacting the stress moments before an attack (one of the combatatnts seems to have his left hand bandaged and is grabbing a rifle, while another one wearing a French helmet is smoking).

Then, we see the attack reenactment in two areas of La Granjuela, one with some nearby large houses. Here, the combatants of the Chapaiev Battalion strive after conveying all the feasible realism to an assault carried out against a Francoist position (really non existent, since the actual battle took place two months and a half before) and another one near the entrence of the village, in an area featuring as a main trait a wide stone enclosure surrounding a big farm, at the end of which is the beginning of the village.


                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                             Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

                            Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

All of this area suffered from abundant changes throughout the decades after the Spanish Civil War and is hardly discernible nowadays, because apart from the huge havoc brought about to La Granjuela by the fight of April 15, 1937 in which it was conquered by Republican forces (that would hold a sway over the village for one year and two months), there was a further destruction made between June 14 and 18, 1938 by the struggle of Republican militiamen and combatants of the Chapaiev Battalion and other units of the XIII International Brigades against the Francoist South Army, which after the conquest of Sierra Trapera, captured La Granjuela, Valsequillo and Los Blázquez after hard combats. La Granjuela had to be almost entirely built after the Spanish Civil War.

On the other hand, the intensity of the fight which preceded this reenactment two months and a half before, is vividly depicted not only by the lavishness of Mexicansky and Mauser rifles handled by Chapaiev battalion men who took part in that strife two months and a half earlier and now being the main characters of events, but even by the presence of a 


                                Photo: Gerda Taro. © ICP New York

Russian Degtyarev DP-1928 7.62 x 54 R caliber light machine gun, sporting air refrigeration, a folding tripod, a weight of 9,3 kg and a 47 cartridge magazine, popularly known as ´sartén´ during the Spanish Civil War, boasting a horizontal configuration of the bullets.

This automatic weapon was prone to overheating and above all to get dirty, so in the aforementioned picture in which appear four combatants of the Chapaiev Battalion playing with a dog, one of them - the one with the Degtyarev DP-1928- has put it on the ground with the drum magazine leaned on it, to prevent the barrel elongated ventilation holes from being in contact with the floor and the risk that sand or dust can stick to it.

The images taken by Gerda Taro clearly reveal that the photojournalist, who works now with two different 35 mm Leicas (albeit the image aesthetics of the pictures, the low contrast of them, the abundant flare in the contrejour photographs and the apparent performance drop in borders and corners suggest that she got the pictures in La Granjuela mainly with the chromed Leica III and non coated Summar 5 cm f/2 lens featuring some scratches and cleaning marks on its delicate front element), has freed herself of the limitations inherent to the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 square inches medium format Rolleiflex Old Standard that she used until mid February 1937, has developed a good timing, moves faster and is able to get good pictures of combatants in motion and even running, managing to achieve action feeling.


From the photographic reportage made by Gerda Taro in La Granjuela, six of the action pictures were chosen and published in the July 14, 1937 number of the French illustrated magazine Ce Soir, while Robert Capa delivered his 35 mm footage to Richard de Rochemond in Paris.

Currently, almost thre quarters of a century after the events, La Granjuela is a peaceful, lovely and very representative village of the Guadiato Valley (Córdoba), visited by people coming not only from Córdoba province, but also from the rest of Spain and even from some foreign countries, enticed by its quietness, the outstanding quality of its typical cuisine, its unique and famous limited crop olive oil, the hospitality of its inhabitants and many more things.

But well into the night,


                                Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

when the streets have already been empty for some hours, there are moments in which the most absolute silence begets a shiver on remembering what happened 74 years ago and thinking, not without deep thrill, that Gerda Taro and Robert Capa were here.

Copyright Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Inscribed in the Territorial Registry of the Intellectual Property of Madrid