miércoles, 6 de junio de 2012


Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The findings from different sources enhancing even more and helping to better understand the great photographic labour made during the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, David Seymour Chim, Agustí Centelles, Gerda Taro, Kati Horna, the Mayo brothers, Alfonso and others, go on in a steady way.

After a starting error made by José Manuel Serrano Esparza:


corrected on October 6, 2011 and continuation of the research during the seven next months, elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com has been able to verify practically with certainty that Agustí Centelles is the author of a picture that we discovered in September 2011 in the book La Lucha del Pueblo Español por su Libertad, written by A. Ramos Oliveira and edited by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937:

Refugees escaping from the aerial bombing of Tardienta (Huesca). 1937. Photo: Almost certainly Agustí Centelles, though in the aforementioned book written by A. Ramos Oliveira don´t appear either the names of the different photographers who made the images illustrating the book or the places where they were made. 

and in which we can see two old women clad in dark clothes and black coifs on their heads, who are grabbing baggages with the personal belongings they have been able to save in the last moment, along with blankets to sleep in the open air during the night. Because of their old age, they are walking tiresomely and difficultly, being the last ones in the group.

On the other hand, on far right of image, we can see a very sturdy and square faced mature woman being around 40 years old wearing a clear long garment with short sleeves and a somewhat darker overskirt garment with of stains and dirtiness tied to her waist. This woman is holding with her right hand a very little girl whose head is covered to protect her from the sun beams and who is wearing a black colour trouser-skirt. This exceedingly young girl goes barefoot. And this mature woman is probably holding some clothes or personal belonging with her left hand, though it isn´t visible in the picture, because the frame cuts on the shoulder.

On the left area of the photograph, there´s an approximately 30-35 years old woman making a very strenuous effort: she´s holding her daughter with her left arm and hand, while she grabs a big bag with personal belongings and blankets with her right hand.

And in this picture we can also watch a total of six children: two very young around 8 years old girls on far left of the image (one of them is wearing a long sleeved plaided dress, while the other one walking just in front of her is wearing white shoes and an also white dress, which is full of dirtiness), a very young blonde boy - being approximately 5 years old and located slightly on the left of the center of the photograph - who is wearing dark shor trousers with suspenders over his shoulders, and the saddest detail of all: two more girls (just behind the very young blonde boy), one of which - with his short sleeved dress very dirty with sand, both on the chest area and above all in the lower one - is grabbing with her left hand the right hand of an exceedingly young child (still almost a non more than two years old baby), while another young girl (being around 11 years old, showing the left middle area of her short sleeved dress stained with sand and the lower area even more) is taking with her right hand the very young child - almost a baby- right hand.

It seems apparent that when they were fleeing Tardienta while the village was being bombed, there have been some nearby explosions and the adult women have made - in one or some moments- the four girls, the blond boy (whose middle left area of his shirt is also very soiled with sand, in the same way as his trousers, in which the sand stains are barely perceptible in the image, since it is of a very dark colour) and the almost still baby (whose upper garment likewise shows abundant sand spots) to lie on the floor, trying to protect them to the utmost and probably covering them with their bodies.

Due to the rash flight and the fear to die, there hasn´t been any time to suitably dress the quoted child being still nearly a baby or at least to put him a diaper, so he appears wholly naked from waist area downwards, with his genital zone in the open air.

This still almost a baby child has learnt to walk for a very little time and is barely able to keep balance standing, so he´s constantly helped by his elder sisters.

There´s a picture made by Agustí Centelles and published by Regards French magazine on December 2, 1937 and also by the Spanish newspaper El País on July 23, 2010 in its series The Favourite Photographs of Centelles , and on page 218 of the top-notch 321 pages book Centelles in_edit_ ¡oh! New York 2011 Salamanca (made with painstaking care, lavishly illustrated, with an excellent quality of photographic printing and paper, highly comprehensive documentation on the magazines and newspapers where Centelles published images made by him, and in-depth texts in each and every one of its nine chapters) edited by the General Technical Secretary of the Spanish Ministry of Culture thanks to the contributions of Sergi Centelles and Octavi Centelles (sons of the great Valencian photojournalist) with a great quantity of pictures made by their father during the Spanish Civil War and which are at the Agustí Centelles i Ossó Archive of the Documentary Center for the Historical Memory in Salamanca, together with articles wirtten by Joaquín D. Gasca - Commissar of the Centelles in_edit_¡oh! Exhibition that was held at the ICP New York in 2011-, Rocío Alcalá del Olmo Olea, Daniel Cortijo, Antón Gasca and Jesús Núñez Calvo).

In this image appear the same refugees as in the picture discovered and located by elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com, a few hundred meters beyond the point in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca) in which the previous photograph was made:

- The young mother between being approximately between 30 and 35 years old who was on the left of the previous image, is now on the right of the photograph - very near Centelles in the moment in which this gets the picture- , and both the thorough examination of her face with a Schneider 10 x magnifying loupe and through a selective reframing of it clearly reveal that this woman is not looking at the camera, she walks utterly plunged in thought and striving after putting her daughter farther away from danger as sson as possible, holding her with her left hand while she is taking a large bag full of personal belongings and clothes with her right hand.

To discover this very important fact, which hugely fosters this second picture made by Centelles to the same refugees (because the Valencian photojournalist manages to capture by surprise the 100% of the people appearing in image, and not even one of them is looking at the camera, which is highly praiseworthy), has been very important the page 153 of the book Centelles in_edit_ ¡oh! in which is shown the cover of Regards magazine number of December 2, 1937 with this image reproduced such a year by the French illustrated publication by means of the half-tone plate system probably made from the original 24 x 36 mm negative exposed by Agustí Centelles.

Her face (whose traits aren´t easy to discern because the non coated Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 featuring 6 elements in 4 groups, designed by Max Berek in Wetzlar four years before ( an asymmetric variation of a symmetric Double Gauss formula with a large front singlet, glued central doublets and a back singlet) with which Centelles takes the picture, has the delicate front element - made with a very soft optical glass- with some cleaning marks, some little scratches and some presence of adhered dust which have lessened the resolving power and contrast) is absolutely contorted by the exhausting effort. She has an absent gaze, her eyes have lost coordination (the left one appears approximately 50% opened, while the right one is utterly opened), her mouth is ajar, clearly panting, with sweat and saliva falling on the corners of her lips, while her forehead creases appear very pronounced.

Among other factors, a significant fact making it to be easy to be wrong and think that this young mother holding her daughter with her left arm and hand is looking at the camera - when she isn´t really doing it- is that the Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 lens, though attains a good sharpness for the time, doesn´t particularly excel for its good ability to capture details in shadows (the woman´s eyes are in low key area), so if you don´t use a powerful magnifying loupe or make a selective very large reframing of the woman face area, you can barely see detail of her eyes, which worsens even more due to the low contrast of the objective (whose optical performance is besides dwindled, since it features some cleaning marks, little scratches and some dust on its very delicate front element) and the reamrkable enhancing of the high keys providing an impressionist profile to the scene.

Nevertheless, in this kind of photojournalistic photography, the technical perfection of the image is not a key factor, bacause the important thing is to be in the suitable place at the suitable moment, to approach as much as possible to the subject and capture the most meaningful moments, something in which Centelles was one of the great, such as he proves with this impresive image.

This woman - who seems to be much older than she really is, due to the very hard life conditions of the time in the villages - is frightened, she´s very worried about the uncertain future of both her and specially her daughter, her facial expression is dantesque and she is on the brink of physical collapse.

Agustí Centelles has realized everything in advance and has masterfully captured a highly significant instant vividly depicting the sufferings and hardships of refugees in war times.

The old woman clad in black garment who occupied the center of the frame in the previous image, is now on far left of the image, with her left arm leaned on her hip, utterly exhausted and looking at the other old woman also wearing black attire, holds a huge white baggage with her left arm and looks anguished - because on being likewise very tired, she can´t help her - at the little girl who in the previous picture was taking the right hand of the baby and that now has had to grab the heavy dark coloured baggage full of personal belongings and all sort of clothes which was taken in the previous photograph by the old woman located in this second picture on far left of the image, and who can´t load with it any more, so she has asked for help to the little girl, who is taking the baggage now with great difficulty and is captured by Centelles in full endeavour, trying to hold it with both of her hands.

- The girl with very dirty front of her skirt who was on far left of the image in the previous photograph, is now in the center of the frame, looking backwards to her younger brother (the blond boy wearing dark troiusers and suspenders) and also to her younger sister (who is advancing in the last place).

- The blonde boy clad in dark trousers and suspenders on his shoulders who was in the previous picture just on the left of the middle of image and with his left leg forward, is now in the background, between the two old women wearing black dresses and behind one of his sisters, and both he and that sister who has turned her head backwards (the girl appearing in the first place on far left in the first picture) look nervously at each other, on noticing that her little sister (the girl walking in the background) is barely able to take the dark baggage loaded with personal belongings and all sort of clothes, which in the previous photograph was taken by one of the old women wearing dark clothes and coif, who now appears located on far left of the image.

- The little girl who appeared in the middle of the image of the previous photograph, grabbing with her left hand the right hand of an exceedingly young child - still almost a baby - helping him to walk, is now the last in the group and has just taken the bag of the old woman visible now on far left of the picture and who was behind her in the previous photograph. It seems apparent that this old woman is frazzled and has asked the little girl to take her the bag (at the same time, this old woman has stopped to rest a moment and is leaning her hand on her left hip trying to recover her breathing), which the little lassie does with great effort, since as it is seen in the image, she can hardly load with it.

- The very little baby who was helped to walk by his two sisters in the previous picture, has been raised on her shoulders by his elder sister, who appeared in the previous photograph grabbing the left arm of the exceedingly young child.

- And the old woman clad in black attire who appeared on the right of the previous image taking a basket with blankets with her left hand, is now in the center of the image looking anxiously backwards to the girl who is striving after taking the bag of the other old woman with great difficulty.

Because of it all, it´s practically certain that the first picture of this article was made by Agustí Centelles and belong to the same sequence and roll of 35 mm film, though the chance that it could have been made by Capa or any other photographer also in the area was its author, because both photographers worked often near each other during their coverage of Aragón Front.

The evidence indicate that Agustí Centelles, after getting the first picture subject of this article in the purlieus of Tardienta (Huesca), isn´t satisfied, has the image he´s just made in mind and has realized that though he has managed to capture by surprise the blonde boy wearing dark short trousers and suspenders, the half naked baby taken by the hand by two of his sisters, and the very little girl covered with a white shawl, whose mother (on the left of the image) is holding her in a difficult way with her left arm while she grabs a heavy baggage with her right forearm, the rest of refugees were looking at him in the moment of pressing the shutter release button of his camera.

Centelles ( a man being tremendously eaxcating with himself and hyperactive) decides to make them a better picture, and with that aim he goes up the slope that can be seen on the left of the photograph and runs quickly forward on a higher soft terrain parallel to the way, following the trajectory of the refugees he has just taken the firt picture, but without their visual field, endeavouring to surprise them descending suddenly towards the way from the slope approximately 200 meters beyond the place where he makes the first image.

He knows that if he wants to photograph them without being looking at the camera, he will only have a shot, since they are a total of ten persons.

He makes a top effort to choose the key moment, being successful, because in an amazing way, Agustí Centelles achieves that not not even one of the eight persons he captures in this second picture is looking at the camera.

On the other hand, in the center of this second image, we can see that unlike the previous picture in which there were two girls grabbing the baby by his hand, now only the elder sister is taking care of him, taking the little baby on her head (his naked back can be watched in the open air, just over the head of his little sister who grabeed the baby by his right hand in the first picture captured by Centelles), and above all, the most stunning thing: Centelles also achieves to photograph by surprise - in the same way as the rest of refugees- the mother wearing a plaided dress, who is not looking at the photographer and walks absent-minded and thinking only about the security of her daughter, whom she is holding with her left arm and hand, while she holds a heavy bag with her right forearm, so at the moment in which Agustí Centelles presses the shutter release button of his Leica III, she doesn´t even see him, despite he he shoots almost at point blank range, probably at f/8, masterly framing her on the right area of the image, also getting a stressed contrast between the huge flurry and physical effort of the mother being afraid of her daughter safety and the outstanding quietness of the latter, looking backwards curiously at her brothers and sisters, while on the left of this mother clad in a checkered attire appear seven of the other eight persons (the approximately 50 years old mature woman wearing a white coif on her head who was on far right of the photograph discovered by elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com appears now almost completely covered by the mother wearing a plaided dress and her daughter whom she´s holding with her left arm and hand, while the girl clad in a long sleeved checkered attire who appeared on far left of the first picture just behind the other girl wearing a short sleeved white dress very stained with sand, appears now partially on the lower right corner (we only see her left arm and hand, neck and right pocket and a small area of her head), which doesn´t appear in the picture published by El País but is shown on page 218 of the book Centelles in-edit-¡oh!.

Both of them are two hard pictures, vividly whowing the suffering of civil population in war times, and almost certainly belonging to the same series, made by the famous Valencian photojournalist with a very accurate framing, something which was one of the many sides in which Agustí Centelles excelled (he was not only one of the most important photographers of the Spanish Civil War, but also a very good portrait photographer besides a later remarkable publicity and industrial photographer often using large format cameras), such as happened for instance during his coverage on May 7, 1937 of the arrival in barcelona of 5,000 assault guards coming from Madrid and Valencia, together with government troops coming from Valencia on board of two destroyers and the battleship Jaime I during the Events of May 1937, where Centelles, a man featuring great will and stamina, endeavours to the utmost to get the best possible pictures, trying to capture the most meaningful moments and the rather special atmosphere of those instants from the most various taking angles, not even hesitating about bending as much as possible or lying on the ground, with great effort, to get some pictures with dramatic low angle shots from a very nearby distance to the marching soldiers advancing towards him, fighting to the end of his strength and living photography with boundless passion, without forgetting his huge bravery, cold blood and mastery of the focusing distances and hyperfocal technique, which turned him into an accomplished expert in getting very valuable pictures (often with his 35 mm Leica III rangefinder camera and Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 non coated lens without its cap hidden inside his pocket) of events in which it was forbidden to take photographs, such as happened on August 11, 1936 on board of the ship Uruguay, during the court-martial to the generals Goded and Burriel (where Centelles gets some pictures of both of them, at the moment in which they enter the room and when they are sitting on the dock alike), being one of the pioneers in this kind of photography along with Erich Salomon, starter of the genre in 1927 with his 4.5 x 6 cm Zeiss Ernemann Ermanox camera and Ernostar 8.5 cm f/1.8 objective (a 6 elements in 4 groups design, Sonnar ADN, featuring a triplet and created by Ludwig Bertele in 1924), a tradiciton which would have his top exponent with Peter Magubane (Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2005 and Cornell Capa Award 2010), who made in South Africa a slew of pictures in forbidden places, hiding his Leica IIIG with collapsible Leitz Summicron 50 mm f/2 Version 1 featuring 7 elements in 6 groups in M39 screwmount inside sandwiches, bibles, milk boxes, etc, like for example during the trial to Nelson Mandela in Rivonia in 1964 and the Soweto riots in the summer of 1976.

Important Updating September 4, 2012.-
After the information provided by Octavi Centelles, son of Agustí Centelles, in his blog:


I do wish to publicly recognize my error, because I didn´t know at all that the photograph I found on September 15, 2011 in the book La Lucha del Pueblo Español por su Libertad, written by A. Ramos Oliveira and edited by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937 (in which doesn´t appear Centelles´s credit and in which appear the same persons as in the other image made by Agustí Centelles in Tardienta and published by Regards magazine on December 2, 1937, along with the newspaper El País on July 23, 2010, and also appearing on page 218 of the excellent book Centelles in-edit-¡oh! New York 2011 Salamanca ) which is the subject of this article, had been published in the newspaper Última Hora number 260 of August 21, 1936, signed by Agustí Centelles i Ossó.

Before publishing my article, I strove as much as possible after finding the photograph that appears in the book La Lucha del Pueblo Español por su Libertad both in the blog of Octavi Centelles (whom I truly do thank for the correction) and in the pictures of his flicker, along with different books on Agustí Centelles, and throughout more than a year, I couldn´t find it anywhere (perhaps I got over it inadvertently) or in internet, until August 31, 2012 in the blog of Octavi Centelles.

Likewise, though I searched intensively as much as I could according to my possibilities, I couldn´t find this picture in magazines of other countries of the world, and I couldn´t find any mention to this image in the web, either in Spain or other countries.

On the other hand, on watching the second image made by Centelles after a few seconds in this same location in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca) to the same persons dated in 1937 (which was erroneous) by the newspaper El País - which selected this photograph with very good criterion- in the footnote of that picture which appears among The Favourite Pictures by Centelles, I took for granted that such second photograph made by Centelles (and also published by Regards in December 1937) had been made in 1937.

But if the first picture subject of my article was made by Centelles in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca) around August 19, 1936, the second picture that he takes shortly after, was made by Centelles a few seconds later in the same year, day, location and moment as the first one, and both photographs belong to the same series, made in August 1936 and not in 1937.

It´s impossible that the two pictures have been taken with a difference of a year and five months between each other, one in August 1936 and the other in November 1937, because evidently, both of them were made by Centelles one after the other in the same year, month, day, hour and identical place, id est, in the way which can be seen in the two pictures and located in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca).

Besides, the second picture made by Centelles in this location (approximately one hundred meters after the first one, subject of my article) appears on page 218 of the book Centelles in-edit-¡oh! in 17.5 cm x 11.5 cm with a footnote (which has proved to be erroneous) in bold-facet letters in which it is stated that the picture was made by Centelles in November 1937:

Evacuación de la población civil del frente de guerra aragonés, Noviembre de 1937.

Evacuation of civil population in the Aragon war front, November 1937.

so after reading it, I took it for granted, even with more ground (I couldn´t imagine that it was an error), that the photograph made by Centelles and subject of my article had been made in November 1937, because it was made in the same place, day and hour as the photograph appearing on page 218 of the book Centelles in-edit-¡oh!, approximately 150 meters before, in the same way in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca).

But truth is that elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com has proved that both pictures were made in a consecutive way, the same year, day, hour and moment, with an interval of some seconds between each other, in the same way in the outskirts of Tardienta (Huesca).

On the other hand, since the credit of Agustí Centelles doesn´t appear in the footnote of the book La Lucha del Pueblo Español por su Libertad, and on looking for that picture with the credit of Agustí Centelles in different both Spanish and foreign publications from 1937 onwards and I wasn´t able to find any reference at all to the picture subject of my article, I thought wrongly that  it could be one of the many photographs made by Agustí Centelles in which his authorship as an author didn´t appear, something of which he was victim throughout his great professional career as a photojournalist.

                                   José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Copyright Text José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA