lunes, 22 de octubre de 2018


José Manuel Serrano Esparza

                                                                                                                    © Frank Scherschel / Life has been able to verify the discovery made by the photographer Xavier de La Cruz, who has identified Robert Capa in action, photographing a groups of prisoner German soldiers at the Front of Normandy, in June of 1944, in an image made by Life war photographer Frank Scherschel.

                                                                               Analysis of the image made by                                                                                                
This finding is highly significant and confirms once more the great professionalism, love for his trade and steady fight to get the best possible pictures developed by Robert Capa, in constant movement to attain different angles to make the photographs, always being very near the action epicenter.

Therefore, the 100% merit of this important finding corresponds to the photographer Xavier de La Cruz, and it is echoed today October 22, 2018 by an article signed by Lara Gómez Ruiz in La Vanguardia newspaper of Barcelona.

But though some clues suggested it, it was necessary to verify beyond doubt that it is Robert Capa, analyzing the image.

And now we can state almost certainly that the man appearing with his right knee on the ground and getting pictures with a 35 mm camera is Robert Capa, such as had been said by Xavier de La Cruz.

The camera that Robert Capa is using shooting handheld is a 24 x 36 mm Zeiss Ikon Contax II rangefinder camera, created by Hubert Nerwin in 1936, being inside its Zeiss ever ready leather case, hanging from his neck with the transport strap and coupled to a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 lens designed by Ludwig Bertele.

But the definitive evidence is the 6 x 6 cm medium format camera Rolleiflex Model RF111A hanging beside Capa´s right thigh and whose silver colour film advance crank is utterly visible in the selective reframe of Frank Scherschel´s image we have made.

Right lateral view of a 6 x 6 cm medium format Rolleiflex Model RF111A camera like the one used by Capa at the Front of Normandy (France) in June 1944. You can see the large silver colour film advancing crank.

Diagonal right front view of a 6 x 6 cm medium format Rolleiflex Model RF111A camera like the one used by Capa at the Front of Normandy (France) in 1944.

On the other hand, in that selective reframe, the acutance of the black and white film used by Frank Scherschel has enabled to discern the viewfinder big window of the Zeiss Ikon Contax II camera being used by Capa while Frank Scherschel gets the picture in which he is visible kneeled in the background.

Moreover, that selective reframe has also made possible to identify the large leather bag taken by Capa throughout the whole Normandy campaign, hanging from his left shoulder, and with which he appears in some existing images of the great Hungarian photojournalist from Jewish descent.

John G. Morris told me during some interviews in Paris that Capa always took that leather bag full with another Contax II camera, 35 mm films and 120 medium format film rolls, maps, food, chocolate, etc.

Capa had been using two 24 x 36 mm format Contax II rangefinder cameras since late May 1937, when after a meeting in Paris with Richard de Rochemont (Director of the Cinematographic Branch of The March of Time series and of Time Inc. in the French capital) changed from Leica II Model D and Leica III to Zeiss Ikon Contax II, because the latter was by far the best 35 mm in the world thanks to its exceedingly wide 90 mm rangefinder base with a magnification of roughly 0.75x, which got an effective baselength of 67.5 mm, even superior to the Leica M3 from 1954, in addition to boast combined viewfinder and rangefinder instead of the independent windows for viewfinder and rangefinder of the Leica II Model F and Leica III that had been used by Capa in 1936 and first half of 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

This rangefinder of the Contax II featuring such a great baselength enabled the photographer to achieve a remarkable accuracy of focus, superior to the LTM39 Leica cameras from thirties and forties, and the combined viewfinder and rangefinder made possible to photograph more quickly, without forgetting the important fact that the most luminous Zeiss lenses in its catalogue — Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 and Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2 — delivered more image quality than the Leitz Xenon 5 cm f/1.5 and the Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2, particularly in sharpness and contrast, differences which were more apparent at widest aperture.

On the other hand, throughout the Second World War, as well as the two Contax he used to take (one hanging from his neck, with its leather Zeiss ever ready case and another one inside his large leather bag hanging from his left shoulder), Capa likewise used very often the aforementioned 6 x 6 cm medium format Rolleiflex Model RF111A TLR camera.

Because though unlike the 36 or 37 shots he could make with his Contax II cameras, he could only expose 12 frames with that Rolleiflex, the surface of the 6 x 6 cm medium format negative was a 400% larger than the 24 x 36 mm format negative, so it attained a much higher image quality, and above all, it made feasible to make selective reframings without any degradation, since at that time was very common that the editor of the most important illustrated magazines trimmed the images with respect to their original dimensions, until leaving them with the most adequate aspect ratio for layout needs or to beget as much visual impact as possible enticing readers into honing in on any specific details or persons.

The other five Life photographers who made up in June 1944 the photojournalist team of the Time Life Inc. Central Office in London (Bob Landry, George Rodger, Frank Scherschel, Ralph Morse and David E. Scherman) under the overall command of John G. Morris (picture editor of Life) didn´t use any 35 mm Contax II, but 6 x 6 cm medium format Rolleiflex cameras, albeit sometimes Frank Scherschel also used a 4 x 5 " (10 x 12 cm) Graflex Speed Graphic large format camera during the Second World War, and George Rodger a 35 mm Leica III rangefinder camera.

The image made by Frank Scherschen and in which appears Robert Capa, such as has been discovered by Xavier de la Cruz, is highly representative of war photojournalism, in which the technical perfection of the images is not the decisive factor, but to get the picture at the adequate place and instant, as near as possible from the action, capture defining moments and go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, Frank Scherschen, who had started his professional path as a news photographer for The Milwaukee Journal in 1926 until being hired by Life in 1942, was one of the best American war photographers during the Second World War, to such an extent that some of his pictures made covers of Life magazine. Years later he would even create some iconic images like his portrait of the great architect Mies van der Rohe looking at the Lake Shore Drive Apartments kit in Chicago in November of 1956, in addition to his amazing reportages in both black and white and colour Kodachrome films he had made in 1945 in Machu Picchu (Peru). © Frank Scherschen

The picture, made by Frank Scherschel probably at f/8, and whose great depth of field even makes possible to distinguish the jeep parked in the background, is much more dramatic than it could seem at first sight. They are German soldiers of the Wehrmacht who have been taken prisoners by the U.S Army during its advance across Normandy, a few days after having assaulted Omaha and Utah beaches with heavy casualties.

These German soldiers have endured a huge stress, with relentless bombing by the Allied aviation, and steady fight against American, British and Canadian troops, etc.

The German soldier being most on the right of the image appears gaunt and with an exceedingly sharp face, as a consequence of many consecutive days in danger of death and almost without time to properly eat, while from the three German soldiers in the center of the image, the middle one is wounded and is being helped to walk by his comrades.

As explained by Xavier de La Cruz, the knelt photographer visible in the background of the image made by Frank Scherschel is a highly experienced professional, willing to create an image, to provide it with the correct meaning and frame.

Picture made by Capa, with his right knee on the ground, to a group of German prisoners captured in the Front of Normandy (France) in June of 1944. The defeated soldiers are masterfully photographed by the famous war photojournalist during their march walking, dirty, exhausted, with their worn out uniforms and full of dust, while an American soldier with fixed bayonet in his Sprinfield M1903 30-06 caliber rifle watches them carefully and adds drama to the scene, something that is intensely perceived by Capa, who chooses probably f/11 diaphragm to get a great depth of field and sharpness from the first German soldier very near him (appearing on far right of the image) up to the end of the queue, and even a second American soldier who is also watching the groups of prisoners with the same rifle as the nearest to the camera. They are soldiers of the Wehrmacht, most of them very young. Hitler´s great error utterly trusting on the static defense of the Atlantic Wall, following Von Rundstedt´s advice to the T and despising with his usual haughtiness Erwin Rommel´s indications explaining him many times that the huge power of American Air Force would be unstoppable and that the only way to try to disrupt the Allied offensive was to muster different German armoured divisions at a certain distance from the foreseeable landing spots and rush towards them at full speed, was decisive, and Allied forces managed to consolidate their beachheads in Normandy, so German units in the area were subsequently annihilated or captured. © Robert Capa / ICP New York

On the other hand, there are some photographs showing Robert Capa during his advance through Normandy in June, July and the first two weeks of August of 1944, in which he appears clad in a G.I uniform, particularly in images of the John G. Morris archive.

Robert Capa with Olin Tomkins (driver of Ernest Hemingway´s jeep) in Le Pont Brocard, near Dangy (France) on July 30, 1944, approximately one month and a half after the day Frank Scherschen made the picture in which Xavier de La Cruz has identified Robert Capa. It can be seen that Capa is taking hanging from his neck the 6 x 6 cm Rolleiflex medium format camera that he used throughout the Second World War, during is trip to the USSR with John Steinbeck in 1947 and in other subsequent photographic missions.

Selective reframe of the photograph made by the Signal Corps U.S Army on June 16, 1944 in Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte during the advance of the 505º Regiment of Parachustists of the 82º Airborne Division of United States. On the right of the image can be seen Robert Capa loading his 6 x 6 cm Rolleiflex camera with a 120 medium format film roll.

Selective reframe of the lower right area of the image, in which you can see in more lavish detail Robert Capa loading with medium format film the same Rolleiflex camera hanging beside the right thigh of the mythical war photographer in the image made by Frank Scherschel and in which the photographer Xavier de la Cruz has identified him.

It can likewise be observed how his Zeiss Ikon Contax II rangefinder camera with its ever ready leather case and a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 is also hanging.

As stated by Xavier de la Cruz, Capa is smoking a cigarette in the photograph of the German prisoners walking created by Frank Scherschel roughly a week before.

Capa´s unswervingn commitment to get good pictures and approach as much as possible to the action core, made him often be immersed in highly risky situations, so he smoked heavily, doing his best to relax.

                                                                                                                            © John G. Morris

Robert Capa photographing a group of German officers surrendering to American troops in the village of Ille-et-Vilaine, La Ballue, near Antrain, beside the road between Mont-Saint-Michel and Rennes, on August 8, 1944, around a month after the picture made by Frank Scherschen at the Normandy Front and in which Xavier de La Cruz has identified Robert Capa.

Selective reframe of the previous photograph and in which has been able to identify the big leather bag taken by Capa during his march from Normandy to Paris and which always hanged from his left shoulder. It´s exactly the same large bag hanging next to Capa´s left knee in the picture made by Frank Scherschen at the Normandy Front in June 1944 and in which Xavier de la Cruz has identified Robert Capa.

As well as being his picture editor, John G. Morris was a great friend of Capa and went with him during most of his photographic assignment across the region of Normandy until reaching Paris.

There are two many coincidences in the picture made by Frank Scherschen at the Normandy Front :

- The photographer with his right knee on the ground is an approximately 1,70 m tall and thin man.

- He is holding a 24 x 36 mm format Zeiss Ikon Contax II rangefinder camera between his hands and
  getting a picture of German prisoners.

- He is also taking a 6 x 6 cm medium format Rolleiflex camera.

- Hanging from his left shoulder can be seen a big leather bag like the one used by Capa across France.

- The photographer is with his right knee on the ground to get pictures from a low angle and attain as much impact as possible (something that Capa did very frequently during his whole professional career).

There are a lot of images made by Capa with his right knee on the ground, for example the photograph made between January 25 and 27 of 1939 in the road from Barcelona to the Franch border in which a mother wearing a polka dotted skirt, black waistcoat and loaded with a travel case she is holding between her left arm and hip and a bag she is grabbing with her right hand plods with her daughters (who are taking huge backpacks with apparent toil); the Republican soldiers walking with their cases and coats across the beach of Argelès-sur-Mer concetration camp while they are transferred to Le Barcarés, 32 km in the north; the picture he made in February 1943 of an American officer in a London street speaking with two English war orphan girls, the photograph he makes from behind some thin trees of two German prisoners just captured near Wesel (Germany) on March 24, 1945 and advancing towards the left of the image while they are watched by American soldiers aiming at them with their rifles; the famous picture of the Russian peasant occupying the upper half of the image and picking up the crop during his stay in the USSR with John Steinbeck in 1947; the grandmother wearing dark coat and hat walking through a street of Budapest and taking her granddaughter (wearing polka dotted trousers and white coat and hat); the Jewish mother who in 1949 trudges with a travel case on her head across a way next to small houses in the area of Haifa (Israel) while her son grabs her skirt; the photograph he makes on May 25, 1954, a few hours before his death, of two French soldiers standing beside their motorcycles parked beside the Namdinh-Thaibinh (North Vietnam) road, while a Vietnamese woman and her little son conduct a group of ducks; and many more.

- The picture in which appears this photographer with his right knee on the ground is made by Frank Scherschel (who is indeed one of the five war photographers of Time Life Inc. London, teammates of Capa and also directed by John G. Morris), who was likewise in the area of Normandy in June 1944.

John G. Morris. In Memoriam