miércoles, 24 de septiembre de 2014


The statement made by Irme Schaber, greatest expert on Gerda Taro in the world, in her book Gerda Taro, Fotoreporterin. Mit Robert Capa in Spanischen Bürgerkrieg, edited by Jonas Verlag in 2013, that the German photojournalist of Jewish descent used a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format camera Reflex-Korelle during her first months of coverage of the Spanisch Civil War and not a Rolleiflex Old Standard as had been believed hitherto, has been verified by elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com, which has been able to identify that camera in an image appearing in the documentary film from 2002 Robert Capa in Love and War, produced and directed by Anne Makepeace, in which can be seen Gerda Taro with two militiawomen and holding from its strap a medium format camera showing a large central square structure and borders resembling the ones typical in the Zeiss Super Ikontas, but featuring more rounded contours.

                                      © 2002 American Masters

Frame of the documentary film Robert Capa in Love and War in which can be seen Gerda Taro grabbing from its strap a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format camera Reflex-Korelle II with Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 7,5 cm f/2.8 lens.

It is a picture made by Capa in 1936. Gerda Taro smiles - in the same way as the other two militiawomen with whom she fraternizes – while she leans her right hand on the left shoulder of the smiling militiawoman wearing clear clothes located on her right, and she is holding the camera from its strap and simultaneously resting between her body and the one of that militiawoman on her right, while at the same time she has her left arm stretched and putting her left hand on the left shoulder of the militiawoman placed on her left and wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

Detail of the camera held from its strap by Gerda Taro and leaned for the photograph between her body and the one of the militiawoman clad in white garment appearing on her right.

Medium format camera Reflex-Korelle II from 1936 and Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 7,5 cm f/2.8 with 40.5 mm screw mount, focal-plane shutter and a 2 seconds-1/500 sec + T range of speeds.

2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format camera Reflex-Korelle II with Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 7,5 cm f/2.8 manufactured in Dresden (Germany) by Franz Kochmann Fabrik, the model used by Gerda Taro during her first months of stay in Spain with Robert Capa. On the upper right area of the camera can be seen the standard dial for shutter speeds between 1/25 sec-1/500 sec + B, and just on the right, slightly in front of it and featuring a smaller size, the independent dial for slow shutter speeds between 1/20 sec, 1/10 sec, 1/5 sec, 1/2 sec, 1 sec and 2 sec.

It all verifies something that was already known and that – aside from the difficulty of attribution of many photographs made between August of 1936 and February 1937 to Capa or Taro- had been proven beyond any doubt by Richard Whelan, Irme Schaber, Kristen Lubben and Cynthia Young: Gerda Taro used a medium format camera during her first months of stay in Spain getting pictures, in the same was as Capa, though he used two 35 mm format Leica cameras: a Leica II (Model D) with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 and a Leica III (Model F) with Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2.

The discovery made by Irme Schaber is important, because it was believed until now (also by the author of this modest article) that Gerda Taro had used a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format Rolleiflex Old Standard Model 622 camera with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 7,5 cm f/3.5.

German advertisement of the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format camera Franz Kochmann Reflex-Korelle in mid thirties.  

Advertisement in the Popular Photography magazine of 1939 of the 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format camera Reflex-Korelle II with Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 7,5 cm f/2.8 lens, sold in United States by the firm Burke & James, Inc. of Chicago (Illinois) in 1939 and practically identical to the Franz Kochmann Reflex-Korelle II made in Dresde (Germany) in 1936 and used by Gerda Taro in Spain. 

And it makes sense, because when Robert Capa and Gerda Taro arrived in Spain in August of 1936, the Spanish Civil War had aroused a huge interest and the most prestigious illustrated magazines at the time (Vu, Regards, Weekly Illustrated, Illustrated London News, etc) craved for filling their pages with pictures of the conflict, so if besides the photographs made by Capa with his Leicas, there was a supplement of images made with a medium format camera like the Reflex-Korelle II, featuring a high quality and very luminous lens for the time, and which was able to expose 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ negatives (400% bigger than 35 mm format) much more adequate when tackling the editing and make reframings, because of its much greater preservation of quality on making enlargements than the 24 x 36 mm format, the chances of publication increased significantly.

The Reflex-Korelle II also featured an independent dial for slow speeds of 1/20 sec , 1/10 sec, 1/5 sec, ½ sec, 1 sec and 2 sec.


But the picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman (that it is known that wasn´t taken in Cerro Muriano thanks to the key identification made in early March of 2009 by Antonio Aguilera ( an Andalusian teenager pupil of the High School Institute Vicente Núñez in Aguilar de la Frontera, Córdoba) of the Llano de Banda and the ranges of Montilla and Cabra as the mountains which can be seen in the background of the decisive picture unveiled by the ICP in 2008 showing four militiamen and an old anarchist chief with their knees on the ground and simulating to aim their Mauser rifles, a picture that had been shown to him by his teacher Juan Molleja Martínez,  a fundamental discovery after which J.M. Susperregui (who had sent emails to different villages of Cordoba province asking if anybody could know the location of the mountains visible in that new photograph unveiled by the ICP) could realize that the picture had been made in Espejo front) wasn´t made by Gerda Taro with her Reflex-Korelle II, since that image doesn´t correspond to Gerda Taro´s style of photographing during 1936 (much slower than Capa, looking for powerful diagonals and compositions with symbolic semantics, which will change from February 1937 for a much more dynamic and agile way of photographing, when she starts to use a Leica camera, something that is apparent in reportages like the ones made in Valsequillo and Brunete in July 1937).

Furthermore, Death of a Loyalist Militiaman (who we have known since 2003 isn´t Federico Borrell García thanks to the investigation made by Miguel Pascual Mira, that eleven years ago discovered in the Number 13 of the Ruta Confederal anarchist magazine of Alcoy (Alicante) from October 23, 1937, a chronicle written by the anarchist militiaman Enrique Borrell Fenollar and titled De Mi Diario El Compañero Federico Borrell ´ Taíno ´ written in Puerto Escandón (Teruel) and sent by mail, in which he tells how on September 5, 1936, at four o´clock in the afternoon, he saw Federico Borrell García die killed by a shot in his chest while he was hiding behind a tree in the Loma de las Malagueñas (a 589 m high hill near Cerro Muriano village), an area with an utterly different landscape compared to the one visible in the picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman.
Such finding made by Miguel Pascual Mira, which also appear in the 2003 documentary film Los Héroes Nunca Mueren directed by Jean Arnold, was the one that definitely excluded in 2003 that the famous militiaman could be Federico Borrell García), although being an impressive image and undoubtedly one of the most important photographs in history, Death of a Loyalist Militiaman is curiously very imperfect from a technical viewpoint; the framing cuts a small area of the right foot sole of his footwear and approximately half of the left foot, the butt of the 7 x 57 mm caliber Mauser rifle is also cut by the frame on the left, the grain is exceedingly abundant (because the picture was made with a Leica II Model D with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens and bulk loaded cinematographic Eastman Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic film featuring a sensitivity of Weston 32, equivalent to ISO 40, and a lot of visible grain, though good acutance), the image is slightly out of focus, the traits of the instantly killed militiaman can´t be distinguished, etc.

If already previously the hypothesis that the picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman could be made with a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼  Rolleiflex Old Standard on a tripod was far-fetched, this ´ new theory ´ claiming that the photograph was made by Gerda Taro with the Reflex-Korelle is even more remote, because of a number of reasons.

2 1 /4 x 2 1/4 medium format camera Reflex-Korelle II with its main dials and controls.

Firstly, the Reflex-Korelle II (a model that in spite of sporting some improvements with respect to the previous Reflex-Korelle I from 1935 wasn´t easy to handle and use at all) is a reflex camera featuring a large size mirror, much bigger than the one of a professional 35 mm reflex camera. Such very bulky and weighty swivelling mirror, which must do an upward movement and come back to its original viewing position through gravity on relaxing the pressure of the index finger on the peculiar shutter release button located on the right of the big middle square structure of the camera (unlike the Rolleiflex Old Standard in which the shutter realease button with the shape of a small lever is at the bottom of the taking lens) begets a powerful vibration affecting the stability of the exposure, bringing about a much bigger risk of trepidation than when using screwmount 24 x 36 mm format Leica rangefinder cameras (featuring direct viewing,  lacking a swivelling mirror and with which the photographer can get pictures shooting handheld up to approximately 1/15 sec and 1/8 sec without problems) or a Rolleiflex Old Standard (featuring a 45º angle mirror, but which is fixed and doesn´t need any movement at all, so you can get pictures with it without trepidation at speeds of 1/45 sec and even 1/30 sec), while trying to get pictures without trepidation shooting handheld with the Reflex-Korelle II using speeds under 1/200 sec became something risky and complex, because the medium format 120 film rolls used by Gerda Taro featured a very slow sensitivity of Weston 24, roughly equivalent to ISO 32.

On the other hand, the Reflex-Korelle II has a very thin metallic cable going under the camera´s top plate, from the ratchet of the crank for cocking the shutter and winding the film (placed on top left area of the camera and made up by a big round disc with black background, a silvery central screw and a silvery concentric ring linked to the likewise silvery metallic lever knob that the photographer has to grab with index and thumb fingers) to the other side to tension the shutter and do the film advance, so it is necessary to make two complete 360º turns to cock it, the first one clockwise (which cocks the shutter) and the second one anticlockwise (which makes the medium format 120 film roll advance) just after the previous one, while watching the frame counter until the knob of the crank doing the shutter cocking and film advance is again on its resting place, after which the photographer must turn either the wider silver dial located on the upper right area of the camera (with shutter speeds 1/25 sec – 1/500 sec + B) or the smaller (with slow shutter speeds 1/20 sec, 1/10 sec, 1/5 sec, ½ sec, 1 sec and 2 sec) to choose the shutter speed he wants to use.

Detail of the upper left area of the Reflex-Korelle II in which can be seen the lever knob of the crank for cocking the shutter and advancing the medium format 120 film roll. In the image it is in its resting position, which became operative when this silvery knob (that the photographer grabbed with his/her index and thumb finger) was raised and put in vertical position, after which two complete 360º turns had to be made, one clockwise (cocking the shutter) and following it a second anticlockwise (doing the film advance), which slowed down very much the shooting rate in comparison to a screwmount Leica, which besides was much smaller, lighter and stable when shooting handheld, as well as featuring a much shorter shutter lag and continuous vision during the exposure. Besides, this very slow mechanism brought about the risk of ruining the 120 film roll if the quoted both turns were not carefully made and had the added drawback that both for the shutter cocking and the film advance it depended on a thin and fragile metallic cable which goes beneath the upper plate of the camera and which often broke.

Detail of the upper left area of the Reflex-Korelle II showing the lever knob of the crank for cocking the shutter and advancing the medium format 120 film roll in its unfolded vertical position, ready to be used by the photographer. 

This mechanism of shutter cocking and 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ film advance of the Reflex-Korelle II by means of two complete 360º turns of the crank with shape of round disc and a lever knob intended for both things was exceedingly slow (approximately 2 seconds at best), to which had to be added its much more prolonged shutter lag than a screwmount 35 mm Leica, its big weight and size (the Reflex-Korelle II weighs 805 gr with dimensions of 145 x 92 x 97 mm, while the Leica II is much lighter and small with dimensions of 133 x 67 x 33 mm), the effects of the strong mirror swivelling and subsequent hit that brought about a significant vibration and 

the peculiar shutter release button located on the right area of the big square central structure of the camera which on being pressed also contributed to the lack of stability during handheld exposures, it all meaning in practice to experience great difficulties to shoot handheld without trepidation at speeds under 1/200 sec) and it would have excessively slow down the use of the camera for action photography with different militiamen inside which Capa is and from which he makes some action photographs with his 35 mm Leica: Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, another one with six militiamen (one of them being the famous militiaman) appear jumping over the trench and being photographed by Capa in a perpendicular way, another one in which are depicted three militiamen (two of them being on the right border of the trench (one of them being the famous militiaman) while the other is still inside it about to climb to its border and another one in which are shown two militiamen (one of them clad in dark overalls, wearing an anarchist cap and grabs a Mauser rifle with both hands while behind him and greatly hidden by the nearest militiaman to Capa´s Leica can be glimpsed another one who is the famous militiaman ).

Neither of these five pictures (including Death of a Loyalist Militiaman) was made by Gerda Taro with a Reflex-Korelle II. And Capa didn´t make it with the Reflex-Korelle II either. Those pictures were made by Capa with his 24 x 36 mm format Leica II (Model D) and a Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5, which aside from being a much smaller and lighter camera than the Reflex-Korelle, sported the important advantage with respect to it of a dial located on its right top area which could be turned on the right (following the direction of the arrow engraved on it) in one way through three very quick and energetic rotary movements, cocking the shutter and advancing one frame in approximately between half a second and one second, because its strudy gear train mechanism enabled it and was optimized to attain as fast shooting rate as possible.

Gerda Taro made a total of 8 photographs in Espejo with her 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ Reflex-Korelle medium format camera:

a) Six in different areas of the slope by Espejo village, with a number of militiamen doing different combat simulations, attacks with upwards direction, knelt on the ground pretending to be aiming their rifles against the enemy, walking in group up the slope towards a supposedly conquered foe position, crouched as if they were waiting for orders to attack an elevated enemy location, and one in which can be seen a militiaman pretending aiming his rifle while another one standing by him hold his one in a vertical position with its barrel upwards, while a third one veru near Gerda Taro appears on the right of the frame, cut in his half.

b) Two from inside a trench ( located in a different spot of the slope by Espejo village in which the Death of a Loyalist Militiaman picture was made by Capa) in which appear three militiamen simulating to be aiming their Mauser rifles against enemy troops from the upper border of that trench. But both pictures are static.

On the other hand, to all intents and purposes, the aforementioned complex system of shutter cocking and film advance in the Reflex-Korelle through a crank with a lever knob that the photographer had to 360º turn strongly firstly clockwise and then anticlockwise meant that if he/she didn´t manage to cock the shutter at his/her first attempt, the emulsion surface of the 120 film roll with capacity for 12 exposures ruined.

Besides, on arriving at the last frame, the photographer who used the Reflex-Korelle II had to turn the wind crank again and cock the shutter to be able to trigger the ratchet mechanism and connect the rest of the medium format 120 film roll with the taking spool.

If all that wasn´t enough, the fact that the photographer had to cock the shutter turning the lever knob of the crank with a disc in its center with strength until getting the suitable tension and that the same mechanical device was also responsible for the advance of the medium format film roll implied a new risk, because the film made its way tighter than usual through a guide space rather thinner in the backing area behind the emulsion than in other medium format cameras like the Rolleiflex Old Standard, which increased even more the strain under which the aforementioned cable was, resulting in its breakage.

On the other hand, the mechanic parts of the Reflex-Korelle II shutter mechanism are not filed to fit. In order to save costs, they are a bit oversized raw metallic stampings, which also had as a consequence that the photographer had to strongly tense the cable turning the winding crank until coking it.

Moreover, the shutter lag (time elapsed from the moment in which the photographer presses the shutter release button until the exposure begins) was much shorter both in the 24 x 36 mm format screw mount Leica II (Model D) and Leica III (Model F) and the binocular Rolleiflex Old Standard than in the Reflex-Korelle II.

Therefore, the Reflex-Korelle II features a much less reliable shutter than the one sported by the LTM39 screwmount Leicas (designed by Ludwig Leitz) and the one in the Rolleiflex Old Standard 622 (Compur Rapid), so bearing in mind all the aforementioned factors, Gerda Taro had to work in very difficult conditions in comparison to Capa, with constant uncertainty about the correct working of her camera during her first months of stay in Spain with the Hungarian photojournalist from Jewish descent, who had already a four years experience as a professional photographer, while Gerda Taro was still in learning stage in early Spanish Civil War and with the permanent risk of running out of film, because the 120 film rolls for her medium format camera manufactured by Franz Kochmann in Dresden (Germany) only had capacity for 12 exposures,while Capa´s Leicas could expose up to 36 frames.  

The picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman wasn´t made by Gerda Taro with the Reflex-Korelle II, because using a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ format camera which gets a much higher image quality than a 24 x 36 mm format camera (featuring a 400% smaller negative size) to obtain a picture with such scarce sharpness, resolving power, framing inaccuracy and undiscernible face of the man appearing in it would have been something utterly illogical.

In this picture a man really dies. This photograph (unlike the rest of them except one that are a kind of revolutionary spree on the slope by Espejo village until the farce ended suddenly in tragedy because of an unexpected circumstance which happened and a 7 x 57 mm caliber shot that pierced the Loyalist Militiaman´s heart and killed him instantly) was made by Robert Capa and was not created with a propagandist intention, but was a chance occurrence.

And this image was not known by the masses at an international level until July 1937 when it appeared in the American magazine Life, a moment from which the picture was massively used with propagandistic aims of fight against fascism and Capa gained a huge international fame as a war photographer (also greatly enhanced by his extraordinary reportage of the Rio Segre Battle appeared in Picture Post in 1938 and his coverage of the Sino-Japanese War in 1938 which was published in some numbers of the French magazine Regards), but what happened with the picture after Capa got it probably on September 3, 1936, were editorial decisions that escaped his control.

Capa simply made the photograph and quickly sent his Leitz Filka B cassettes bulk loaded with 35 mm cinematographic Eastman Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic Panchromatic film to Csiki Weisz, his laboratory man in Paris, who developed them.

Whatever it may be, Death of a Loyalist Militiaman has been, is and will go on being an extraordinary and impressive picture oozing huge impact and drama and one of the greatest icons in the History of Photography.

But the international repercussion of this image and its great spreading and world fame which has kept on hitherto, in an amazing way with increasing power, was not something made by Capa, because the evidence clearly suggest that Capa felt haunted until the ends of his life by a celebrity he gained in the beginning of his career thanks to a macabre luck: to photograph by chance a man just at the moment in which he is shot in his head when he was thrilled raising his Mauser 7 x 57 mm rifle by a trench.

The beginning of the international spreading of this picture started in 1937 in a meeting held in New York in May 1937 at the main building of Life Magazine Time Inc. in the 49th Street and in which Wilson Hicks (the best picture editor in the world at the moment along with Simon Guttmann and who had been hired by Henry Luce in 1937 coming from Associated Press), Daniel Longwell (Executive Editor and the second in command) and John Shaw Billings (Executive Editor and the man when most power when tackling the selection of the reportages with pictures that made the magazine) analyzed a copy on photographic paper of Death of a Loyalist Militiaman which had been sent to them from Paris.

They all were exceedingly impressed by this photograph, unanimously reaching the conclusion that it was authentic and a man really died, because it doesn´t make sense that somebody tries to fake a fall backwards and doesn´t open the palm of his hand to minimize as much as possible the effects of the impact on the ground (the left hand of the militiaman that protrudes under his left thigh is in claw configuration, with the fingers orineted towards the palm of the hand, which clearly indicates that the militiaman´s muscles have become limp as a consequence of a shot in his heart, such as was indicated by the deep investigation made by Robert L. Franks, chief homicide detective of the Memphis Police Department and a man featuring a huge experience in this scope), though Hicks, Longwell and Billings committed the error of believing that it was a shot in the head, because they thought that the tassle of the Spanish Elizabethian cap of the shot militiaman and which appears blurred because of the strong real and not faked fall backwards was encephalic mass, when it had been a shot on his heart.

But they all (and we are speaking about the three men making up at the moment the most important editorial trio in the world, featuring a tremendous experience in the viewing and analysis of hundreds of thousands of images among which they had to daily choose the most representative ones) stated their conviction that the picture is authentic and a man really died, so they decided to publish it in the July 12, 1937 number of Life, transforming it into 4/3 format size (which adapted better to the page layout of Life) adding by means of analog clonation (very visible in the image appeared in Life in a horizontal dark stripe beginning in the upper button of the militiaman´s shirt and extending up to the right border of the frame, in the much bigger darkening of the whole area encompassing from the militiaman´s hip up to the top limit of the picture and in a large dark vertical band crossing the right border of the image from top to bottom, all of which doesn´t appear in the copy of the Museum of Moden Art in New York, which is more clear, doesn´t have the aforementioned dark stripes and whose shape approaches much more to the real 2:3 aspect size of the original 35 mm black and white negative exposed by Capa with his Leica in Espejo) more air upwards than the one existing in the vintage copy and darkening that air to give more impact and dramatism to the image in the magazine (in the same way as they did ten months later in the number of Life of May 1938 with the cover of a 15 years old Chinese Nationalist soldier, whose background is much more clear than the original 24 x 36 mm format b & w negative exposed by Capa with his Contax II), with a footnote whose content wasn´t responsibility of Capa and escaped his control.

Besides, David Douglas Duncan, one of the greatest war photographers ever and a man who saw many men die during his professional career, has expressed his utter certainty that the picture is authentic, that the man appearing in the image really died and that it is impossible that Capa ordered the militiaman to fall backwards with such a high degree of realism and drama.

On the other hand, Gerda Taro probably acquired a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ Reflex-Korelle II medium format camera (a model considered appropriate for advanced amateurs by Franz Hochmann Dresden firm) because of two main reasons: the first one economical, since it was a much cheaper camera than the 35 mm format Leicas or Contax at the time (which though sporting much smaller size and weight had an astronomical price far superior to cameras with larger volume and format) and than the binocular Rolleiflex Old Standard (mechanically much more reliable, featuring a fixed mirror and far superior to shoot handheld without trepidation, so it was chosen immense majority of times by pros, which preferred it clearly over the Reflex-Korelle), and the purchasing power of Capa and Taro was then very reduced, and the second one because a medium format camera matched better the concept of photography that Taro had at the time - and which she would change from February 1937 -, very imbued by the new aesthetic trends and by photographers mostly using medium format cameras and a way of working much slower and compositively much more careful than the way of getting pictures typical in Capa, whose style of photographing was based on the maximum feasible speed, to approach as much as possible to the subject, a remarkable precision in the timing on pressing the shutter release button to capture the most meaningful moments and specially to be at the right place at the right moment.

And the creator and most fervent defender of the nickname Robert Capa for Endre Erno Friedmann was Gerda Taro, who realized from the very beginning the immense talent and courage of Capa as a photographer and from whom she would learn photography until developing a style of her own from February 1937.  

The picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman wasn´t made by Gerda Taro. It was Capa who made it, and not with a medium format camera, but with the aforementioned 35 mm format Leica.

Published in FV Foto-Video Photography Magazine Number 237. 

 © José Manuel Serrano Esparza. Inscribed in the Territorial Registry of the Intellectual Property of Madrid.