sábado, 21 de marzo de 2015


                                Photo: Robert Capa. © ICP New York

After identifying Gerda Taro in August 2010 among the militiamen on the left of a picture belonging to the series The Harangue, made by Robert Capa on September 5, 1936 and locating it in the Finca of Villa Alicia (in the same way as the rest of photographs of that series), José Manuel Serrano Esparza made a two years research, between September 2011 and August 2013.

Thanks to it, Esparza could discover the unknown till then authorship and location of four pictures made by Robert Capa on September 5, 1936, during such harangue of two anarchist chiefs to Alcoyan and Andalusian militiamen and some Republican soldiers who listen to their speechs, around half-past twelve of midday, in the Finca of Villa Alicia, approximately 1 km in the southwest of Cerro Muriano (Córdoba), adjacent to the north slope of Torreárboles hill and full of contingents of militiamen who protect the backs of their comrades, who are defending its summit and south slope, which is being attacked by the left Francoist column (from a total of three making up the offensive planned by General Varela), under the command of major Sagrado.

The Finca of Villa Alicia is in full zone of highly probable encircling manoeuver - which is known by the Republican high officers, including captain Castañeda, who is present among the militiamen listening to the harangue- that some hours later will be fulfilled by Francoist major Baturone´s legionaries, who will attack Torreárboles hill through its north slope (in coordination with major Sagrado´s forces who have been attacking the south slope from around 10:00 h in the morning), wiping out firstly all the Republican forces present in the area and then on Torreárboles summit (where the Republican troops had installed Hotchkiss 7 x 57 mm caliber machine-guns for some days, aware that the Francoist troops would attack them very soon), in the same way as will happen with Las Malagueñas hill, which after some hours of hard fight will be routed by the right Francoist column under the global command of colonel Sáenz of Buruaga (that includes the Tabor of Regulares of Melilla Number 3 under the command of major López Guerrero - belonging  to the Group of Regulares of Melilla nº 2, based in Nador, from the Eastern Circumscription - and the Squadrons of Regulares of Ceuta nº 3 from the Western Circumscription and Alhucemas under the command of major Gerardo Figuerola) that after been curbed for some hours, will manage to also encircle that hill, finally capturing it in slow coordination (the Numantine defense by the Alcoyanos reduced very much general Varela´s plan) with the frontal attack made by major Álvarez Rementería through its south slope.

These are the four pictures:

                                                  Photo: Robert Capa
1) This picture appears printed in a 17.9 cm wide x 23.8 cm high size, with an approximate 4:3 aspect ratio in the book The Spanish People´s Fight for Liberty. A. Ramos Oliveira, edited by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937, without indicating the name of the photographer who got it and the location where it was taken.

The printed reproduction was made from a copy on black and white photographic paper made by Csiki Weisz in Paris using the original Eastman Kodak Rochester Nitrate Panchromatic 24 x 36 mm negative film and sent by Maria Eisner to the Press Department of the Spanish Embassy in London. The book was printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd.

Capa photographs two militiamen who are listening to the enhancing words which an anarchist chief is addressing to a contingent of voluntary combatants from an elevated position.

They all are hearing the exchange of rifle shots, machine gun firing and artillery blasts between the attacking left Francoist column (under the command of major Sagrado, which is already attacking the south slope of Torreárboles) and the Republican defenders located on the summit of that hill, from which you can watch the city of Córdoba from a distance of roughly 15 km.

This is a hard image. The militiaman nearest to the camera, photographed profile and wearing a dark shirt along with a plaided blanket on his left shoulder, is looking with great attention at the anarchist chief speaking to them, striving after infusing them with courage before the combat which will happen very soon.

Las Malagueñas and Torreárboles hills, whose previous conquest was fundamental to attack Cerro Muriano village. In those two hills along with the Finca of Villa Alicia was the combat front in Cerro Muriano area on September 5, 1936, while the definitive assault on Cerro Muriano village itself happened on September 6, 1936.

They have just been reported that the Francoist troops are already attacking Torreárboles hill on his south slope and that the feared Moroccan units of Tabors of Regulares under the command of colonel Sáenz de Buruaga have already been deployed for some hours in the surroundings of Piedra Horadada, ready to launch an onslaught on Las Malagueñas hill at any moment.

Both the anarchist chiefs and Republican captain Castañeda, present during this speech in the Villa Alicia estate, are aware that the Francoist troops will try the encircling manoeuver through the Finca of Villa Alicia, which is the key to be able to assault Torreárboles hill across its north slope, so the mission of the abundant contingents of militiamen and Republican soldiers being in it is to strive for hindering it (something that they will manage to do until first hour of the night, when they will be definitely annihilated).

This very young militiaman, wearing a dark shirt with an unfastened button because of the heat and an anarchist cap with a tassel, realizes that there´s a very high probability that he dies within the next hours, which brings about a mixture of feelings in his head: the logical fear, the huge anxiety on thinking about the beloved relatives, the life experiences flowing into his mind as a movie, the dread in front of the possibility of combats with fixed bayonets - nobody wants to fight with blade weapons against the professional Francoist troops of the Army of Africa- , etc.

Stress becomes unbearable and the will for survival springs up, making the militiaman instinctively cling with his right hand - of which we can see three fingers- to the transport sling of his rifle (part of whose barrel can be observed just behind his left scapula).

Immediately behind this young militiaman, we can see another one being older and more experienced, whose face shows more hardened features.

This militiaman in the background is even more aware than the young one in the foreground regarding the exceedingly great danger of death approaching, and shows likewise a mien revealing deep concern, but with more introspection and a relative calm taking into account the circumstances. He seems to accept his destiny with a certain acquiescence, but particularly with conviction, and tries to overcome fear, angst and uncertainty smoking a cigarette held with his left hand.

Capa photographs the two militiamen from a very near distance, while both of them are immersed into these very difficult moments previous to a combat in which these civil fighters belonging to the most various occupation scopes are going to face the professional troops of the Spanish Army of Africa, featuring a lot of years of experience in combat, great prowess in the handling of firearms and bayonet, and commanded by military officers toughened in a lot of battles during the Rif Campaigns in Morocco and later ones since the beginning of twenties.

The Hungarian photojournalist from Jewish descent who has been present from the beginning of the harangue (instants during which he was within a few meters meters from the anarchist chief who gives the speech to the militiamen) is aware of the proximity of death and is highly impressed on seeing voluntary civilian men ready to die for their beliefs fighting against professional troops.

Capa has been making her way through the militiamen, making pictures with his Leica II (Model D) rangefinder 35 mm camera to different militiamen till reaching this point, where she captures the two militiamen appearing in this meaningful image.

                                Photo: Robert Capa
2) This photograph appears reproduced in a somewhat more square format featuring a 10.7 cm wide x 13.2 cm high size in the book The Spanish People´s Fight for Liberty by A. Ramos Oliveira, edited the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937, without indicating either the name of the photographer who got it or the location where it was taken.

The printed reproduction was made from a reframing of a copy on black and white photographic paper made by Csiki Weisz in Paris using the original Eastman Kodak Rochester Nitrate Panchromatic 24 x 36 mm negative film and sent by Maria Eisner to the Press Department of the Spanish Embassy in London. The book was printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd.

Capa captures a hugely dramatic image: another very young militiaman wearing an anarchist CNT or FAI cap, dark shirt and clear jacket, has just known the piece of news they have been waiting for some days: the Francoist troops of the Army of Africa, coming from Córdoba city, are going to try capturing both hills, and besides, major Baturone´s legionnaries will try to encircle the Finca of Villa Alicia and fall on the north slope of Torreárboles hill, adjacent to the place where are the militiamen photographed by Capa and Taro during the harangue.

It´s very apparently discerned that these instants have outstanding importance to Capa. Utterly concentrated and very interested in capturing with his camera what is happening, he has managed to approach up to practically under the speaker (whose left foot and part of his left trousers can be seen on the image right half, together with part of the very big cask on which the anarchist chief has helped up to address his speech to the militiamen).

Capa also gets this picture almost at point blank range, masterfully capturing the terrible atmosphere of the moments prior to the death in combat: albeit he keeps on listening to him, the very young militiaman doesn´t look at the anarchist chief haranguing them, but is leaned with his left arm on the barrel and is absent-minded, clearly deep in his thoughts, probably related with his most loved ones and the main turning points throughout his lifetime.

Understandably, he experiences the inevitable fear and restlessness alike. He knows that the combat against professional Francoist troops will occur very soon and he will have to fight for his life in an undoubtedly off-balance engagement, since both this militiaman and vast majority of the rest of them have hardly had any military drill and lack prowess in the handling of guns, because they come from the most common jobs of the civil sphere: masons, electricians, carpenters, cesspool cleaners, woodworkers, printers, peasants, drivers, potters, cobblers, etc.

The image is terrible, highly representative and following the photojournalistic postulates set forth forty years later by Cliff C. Edom, Professor of Photojournalism at Missouri University in his 1976 book Photojournalism.

It makes up a devastating graphic document, whose main attention focus is the militiaman countenance, downhearted, cognizant of his very probable death, which is in the offing.

The militiaman sweats profusely, not only because of the heat (at those moments the temperature is around 40º C), but greatly as a consequence of the walloping stress, to such an extent that he has unclasped three buttons of his shirt.

Unlike other images previously made by Capa and Taro in Barcelona, Aragón front, Madrid, etc, there isn´t here even a glimmer of the typical revolutionary euphoria and frequent moments of joy and boisterous frolic photographed other times, for in this picture, the militiaman face saturated with hopelessness and the atmosphere of the moments previous to death are the key components.

In the same way as the very young militiaman appearing in the picture, the photographer knows that the armed civil men have no chance against troops not only being professional, but also belonging to the Spanish Army of Africa, encompassing the most experienced in combat and best armed elite units of the Spanish Army.

Certainly, in spite of their brave resistance for some hours (unlike most of Republican effectives in Cerro Muriano - who hastily escaped northbound on watching the enhancing of the Francoist air raid on the village from 15:30 h in the afternoon, believing that the Francoist troops were going to attack them quickly trying to capture the urban area and the train station-, knowing that both the lack of trenches in Cerro Muriano and the very low houses didn´t enable an efficient defense), the contingents of militiamen and Republican soldiers located in the Finca of Villa Alicia didn´t have any chance and were finally wiped out.

It is very important to know that this same very young anarchist militiaman also appears standing by ths cask in a previous picture made by Capa while he was still looking upwards at the anarchist chief during his harnague, before emotionally collapsing, an image (likewise located by José Manuel Serrano Esparza in the Finca of Villa Alicia, in the same way as the rest of 11 pictures making up the series) appeared in the British newspaper The Illustrated London News of October 24, 1936, with an exceedingly horizontal shape reframed from an original 2:3 aspect ratio image to meet the layout needs of that British publication.

Therefore, it´s utterly proved, even more if possible, that Robert Capa and Gerda Taro greatly risked their lives different times during that September 5, 1936, getting pictures at few hundred meters from the combat front, specially in the Finca of Villa Alicia, at those moments an even more dangerous area than the summits of Torreárboles and Las Malagueñas hills, since because of the still scarce number of Francoist effectives in Andalusia in August and September of 1936 and the ruthless tactics of African colonial war carried out to completion in the provinces of Córdoba, Badajoz, etc, it was usual not to make prisoners inside the areas of encircling manoeuver, because the speed of movements was the key of success, and very often, the legionaries and the Moroccan troops of Tabor of Regulares, most times ordered to perform them, were in their turn under the threat of being encircled.

                                                  Photo: Robert Capa
3) This image was published without indicating either the name of the photographer who got it or the exact location where it was made on page 3 of Number 15 Volume III of Weekly Illustrated magazine of October 10, 1936, in a 17,6 wide x 13,9 cm high size, from a vintage copy made from the original 35 mm Eastman Kodak panchromatic negative (exposed by Robert Capa with a rangefinder Leica II (Model D) with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens, from an elevated position) which was sent by Marie-Jeanne Eisner (Director of Alliance Photo Agency, which she had founded in Paris in 1934, and a great professional who had been a pupil of Simon Gutmann in Berlin during the golden ages of Dephot Agency) to Stefan Lorant, editor of Weekly Illustrated, who reframed the image and because of layout needs, edited it in an approximately 4:3 aspect ratio, in such a way that it fitted on the lower right area of the quoted page together with other nine photographs which hadn´t anything to do with the Spanish Civil War, though Lorant decided to highlight Capa´s picture as much as possible, reproducing it with a bigger size than the rest.

But the most important and newly revealed thing in this picture is that the man who is standing on top of a big wooden barrel (barely visible, since it appears mostly concealed by the upper area of the bodies of two militiamen) is a different man from the one giving another harangue to these same civil combatants in a picture made by Capa in this same place, day and moment, already known for decades and in which José Manuel Serrano Esparza identified in 2010 Gerda Taro in the left border of the image.

He is nothing less than Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, secretary of the CNT of Alcoy (Alicante) and chief - along with the lieutenant Melquíades Valiente- of the contingent of Alcoy Column (made up by 534 military men belonging to the Infantry Regiment Vizcaya Number 12 - with a garrison in Alcoy- and 687 militiamen from CNT and FAI) which after leaving Alcoy on August 7, 1936 and arriving at Pedro Abad (Córdoba) on August 9, 1936, went to Cerro Muriano (Córdoba), while the other contingent - under the command of lieutenant Roberto García- marched to Espejo, with the two contingents arriving at both villages on August 10,1936.

Enrique Vañó Nicomedes - shot in Alcoy on August 29, 1939, being 28 years old, after a military court-martial held without any legal base, since he hadn´t committed any blood crime- was very active during September 5, 1936 day, moving between Villa Alicia estate and Las Malagueñas Hill, the latter being the area in which he took part in the combats along with Rafael Miralles from FAI and Felipe Colomé from CNT, staying with the Republican high commanders until approximately 21:30 h in the night, when it dawned on major Juan Bernal that it was impossible to keep on defending the hill against the fierce attacks of Moroccan tabor of regulares troops, and he decided to abandon the position with his staff - majors Balibrea, Armentia and Aviraneta, along with captain La Romana and lieutenant Roig - , Juan Cimorra, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, escaping to Cerro Muriano to save their lives.

In the image, we can see Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, clad in a clear militiaman overalls and lacking his right hand, speaking to the numerous and eclectic group of Anarchist militiamen from Alcoy CNT and FAI and Andalusian civil combatants, striving after conveying them as much courage as possible before the impending battle.

It is approximately 12:30 h in the morning of September 5, 1936 in the Finca of Villa Alicia, which is full of Alcoy militiamen from CNT and FAI (equipped with 7 x 57 mm caliber Mauser rifles and mosquetones, captured during the assaults to military Francoist barracks in mid and late July of 1936) along with a lot of Andalusian militiamen dressed with caps and berets and mainly armed with shotguns.

The face of Enrique Vañó Nicomedes - which has been thoroughly reported the real situation by Republican captain Castañeda- clearly shows the big rage and effort he is making trying to increase the morale of the civilian fighters, who in a gruesomely surrealist context are going to face within a few hours to professional highly selected units of the dreaded Spanish Army of Africa.

Both the patent stress and anxiety visible in the image are huge.

Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, in the same way as the other militiaman chief appearing in the other aforementioned picture and in which can be seen the head of Gerda Taro in the left border of the image, is reporting the militiamen that Francoist troops are going to attack them soon and that they will try to wipe them out and fall on their comrades militiamen and loyalist to the Republic soldiers defending the crest and south slope of Torreárboles, so they must hold at any cost their onslaughts in Finca of Villa Alicia and cover the rearguard of their companions.

The atmosphere becomes unbreathable for the men appearing in the image, who are listening to Enrique Vañó Nicomedes speech.

They know innerly that most of them are going to die, as will happen during the late evening of this September 5, 1936, in which they will be finally routed by the Francoist troops after a stubborn defense of many hours.

Vast majority of the militiamen listening to Enrique Vañó Nicomedes are very worried. They fear for their lives.

Until a few weeks before, the men depicted in the picture have earned their lives working in the most common occupations, suffering very hard labour conditions, both they and their wives, working between 12 and 16 hours daily, in usual contexts of exploitation, miserable sanitary and hygienic conditions, exceedingly low salaries, a lot of non paid overtime under the steadfast threat of being sacked at the least glimpse of protest, exhausting working days from dawn to dusk, mainly within the rural scope, and frequent presence of children working both in the countryside and the big cities and villages.

Logically, they are afraid of dying, the movie of their lives is quickly passing inside their heads at the moment. They think about their most beloved relatives and friends, sweat springs up in a gush, and stress increases to the utmost, in the same way as hatred.

On the other hand, this first year of civil war will be the bloodiest by both sides regarding the assassination of civils in the rearguard and there have have already been abundant massacres all over Spain.

Robert Capa captures this moment with his customary mastery. He is in the suitable place at the appropriate moment, and the nearest feasible.

There are a lot of militiamen clearly showing maximum levels of uncertainty and fidgety on their countenances and attitude.

Pay attention to the militiaman from CNT visible on the lower left half of the photograph, having an absent gaze and very deep introspection, with his left arm stretched and his left hand leaned on the barrel.

Or the militiaman occupying the middle area of the lower half of the image (of whom we can only see his head with the anarchist cap - partially lit by sun beams - and his upper back ). He does know what is approaching, has closed his eyes and is likewise probably thinking of his relations, while just on his right, another militiaman from Alcoy wearing an anarchist cap, highly jittery, joins the fingers of both hands and rubs his nails while he looks at Capa.

We can also see several men who appear in some of the other aforementioned pictures, made by Capa in this same day, place and moment.

On the lower left vertex of the image appears an Andalusian civil combatant wearing a clear beret and unsleeved dark waistcoat, who is looking upward in the direction of the speaker. He has a blanket resting on his left shoulder, and a shotgun hanging from its leather strap and whose two barrels are partially visible behind his head.

Just above him, there´s a militiaman belonging to CNT or FAI from Alcoy. He is wearing the typical anarchist cap and is clad in a dark overalls. A large white handkerchief is wrapped around his neck. He is looking upwards at the anarchist chief while he pronounces his speech.

On the other hand, in this picture in which Enrique Vañó Nicomedes appears delivering a harangue to the militiamen trying that they pluck up courage before the combat, on the right border of the image, with a lorry just behind his back, we can see a militiaman from Alcoy with a clear blanket on his left shoulder. He is with his head down and pensive - maybe already unaware of the boosting words that are being pronounced by the militiaman chief from an elevated position - he is standing on the big barrel - , fully knowing that they´re going to fight soon against the feared professional troops of the Army of Africa.

And on the upper left area of the border of the image, with the back of his head almost touching a tree, another militiaman is also downhearted and lost in thought.

Simultaneously, another young Anarchist militiaman located in the lower right vertex of the picture and on whose Anarchist cap are embroidered the letters UHP (Union of Proletarian Brethren) is with his arm resting on the casket, likewise very concerned and thoughtful, and he isn´t looking upwards to Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, but in opposite direction, while a civil Andalusian combatant behind him (wearing a clear shirt and dark beret) has his head down and is scratching his nails because of the fidgets.

Two very young militiamen, who are standing behind the left leg of the anarchist militiaman delivering the speech, are apparently affected by fear. The closest to Enrique Vañó Nicomedes is wearing clear clothes and his anarchist cap appears just under the speaker´s left hand. He gazes absently and anguish is reflected on his face, while the exceedingly young militiaman - being around 15 or 16 years old - behind him is experiencing very high levels of anxiety and inevitable panic visible on his countenance.

The civil Andalusian combatant with clear beret just in front of the left area of the big white handkerchief of the anarchist militiaman on the left border of the picture, isn´t looking at Enrique Vañó Nicomedes either. He´s thoughtful, very aware about the huge and imminent danger of death.

Therefore, this photograph - in the same way as many others- proves utterly once more, something that was already known: that Capa very often risked his own life to get the best possible pictures, such as happens in this image and the rest of photographs of the series The Harangue, in which he is in the most dangerous zone during that day.

                                                Photo: Robert Capa
4) This image appears in the book The Spanish People´s Fight For Liberty by A. Ramos Oliveira (edited in 1937 by the service of publications of the Spanish Embassy in London) in a 10.6 wide x 13.3 high size, with a roughly 4:3 vertical aspect ratio, without indicating either the author of the photograph or the exact place in which it was taken.

It is the first picture made by Robert Capa to Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, Secretary of the Alcoy CNT, during his impassioned speech striving after encouraging them before combat, when it´s around half an hour for them to face the Francoist troops from the Army of Africa, coming from Córdoba city, who are about to attack them.

It´s truly impressive the degree of embodiment in Robert Capa of what the historian William Manchester called essential instinct for the capturing of great pictures, something that can´t be learnt, you have to be born with it and which first and foremost consists of possessing an intuitive gift for knowing precisely when to push the shutter release button of the camera, a side in which there have been other prominent specialists like Marc Riboud, Werner Bischof, etc.

In this image Capa has photographed Enrique Vañó Nicomedes well into his harangue, with his mouth open and a fiery countenance, speaking in a very loud voice.

These are moments of huge emotional intensity, in which Capa photographs with great mastery and sensitivity what war is about and the cauldron of parallel feelings invading the mind of the ones taking part in it, along with the physical reactions it brings about: the hatred and stress at their utmost degree, the fear of death, the pouring out sweat, the accelerating heart rate, the remembrances of a whole life flowing into the head as a movie, the thinking about the beloved relatives whom they won´t probably see again, their women and children that could be defenceless, etc.

It´s a heartrending and terrible scene, specially apparent in the militiamen located on the right of the picture:

- The militiaman placed under Enrique Vañó Nicomedes´s (who is standing on a large wooden barrel) is drying the saliva flowing profusely through his lips because of the restlessness.

- The militiaman just by him, wearing a clear shirt and dark jacket, has his face slightly upward, but he isn´t looking at Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, but in introspective attitude and highly worried, with his mouth opened and leaning his right elbow and forearm on the wooden cask, while another militiaman placed on his left appears with his arms crossed and not looking at the anarchist chief, but thinking for himself.

- The militiaman located between the one clad in dark jacket and the one with his arms crossed, isn´t looking at the anarchist leader either. He has got his gaze lost, with his eyes slightly oriented towards Bob´s left, his mouth is open and his face gesture reveals tons of anxiety, while the civil fighter in dark beret and white shirt just behind him has his head low and is rubbing his nails because of the nervousness.

- On his turn, the militiaman clad in clear garment located between Enrique Vañó Nicomedes´s left leg and the militiaman wearing dark jacket, is rubbing his face with his left hand as a consequence of the huge jitteriness, concern and also to wipe his sweat off.

- Just behind him we can see an exceedingly young militiaman being approximately 14 years old, with his head under the lower left area of the window of a small truck visible in the background. This teenager´s countenance appears very convulsed and showing great uneasiness, while the militiaman just by him with unshaved stubble of some days, is looking at the speaker with bated breath.

- Finally, another very young militiaman being around 16 years old, is leaning his back on the right forward area of the little truck cabin. He´s wearing clear clothes and a jacket hanging from his left shoulder. This boy is looking anxiously at the anarchist chief giving the harangue, paying top attention to his words, and he will emotionally cave in a few seconds later, moment that will be photographed by Capa in the second picture he gets of Enrique Vañó Nicomedes during his speech and in which can be seen that this same very young militiaman has lowered his head and appears visibly worried.

On the other hand, the picture features two further highly symbolic elements:

a) The nearest militiaman to Capa, wearing clear clothes and appearing in the lower left half of the image (with his upper right arm and his face right side towards the photographer). He is holding a cigarette (perhaps the last one he will be able to smoke). This militiaman with goatee and moustache, will cave in a few seconds later and he will be captured by Capa in deep introspection, probably thinking of his family and with his eyes closed in the second picture he gets of Enrique Vañó Nicomedes just after this one.

b) The left arm (with its hand leaning on the cask) appearing from the lower left side of the picture. It belongs to a CNT anarchist militiaman clad in dark garment who can be seen complete from the waist up in the second photograph that Capa takes of Enrique Vañó Nicomedes during this harangue.

The scene is certainly harrowing and depicts a highly representative moment.

This is war photojournalism in its purest essence.

Capa realizes the truly uncommon context: militiamen who are first and foremost civilian combatants coming from the most different occupations (masons, peasants, plumbers, electricians, print workers, carpenters, textile industry workers, cobblers, etc), with barely any military instruction or prowess in the handling of guns, who are going to fight against the professional Francoist troops of the Army of Africa, featuring long combat experience in colonial war in Morocco, and who are manifestly more skillful in the use of firearms, as well as sporting a far superior combat morale and adaptation ability for the circumstances of battles.

In addition, the two exceedingly young militiamen appearing by the little truck (the one on the right being around 14 years old and the one on the right being around 16 years old) have come here by their own choice, haven´t had childhood and very probably have been working from sunrise to sunset since they were 8 or 9 years old, in the same way as the rest of men appearing in the image, in exchange for miserable salaries, with deplorable working conditions marked by the overcrowding, the lack of hygiene, the high risk of accidents because of the intentional non existence of investment by their eager bosses on the adequate security measures to increase the margins of profits, the lack of any medical insurances, very high illiteracy rates and the steady threat of being dismissed at the minimal protest.

Leica II (Model D) rangefinder camera number 90023 with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 number 133594 made in early 1932.This was the camera and lens with which Capa got the pictures belonging to The Harangue series made in the Finca of Villa Alicia (approximately 1 km in the southwest of Cerro Muriano village) at midday of September 5, 1936. It had been given to Capa by Simon Guttman, Director of Dephot photographic agency in Berlin in July 1932.

Oskar Barnack, an optical engineer, precision mechanic and industrial designer of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar. A consummate genius, he was the technical driving force and inventor of the concept of Leica rangefinder camera featuring very reduced dimensions and weight with the possibility of attaching a wide assortment of interchangeable tiny and highly luminous lenses starting with the Leica II (Model D) in 1932. His great talent and very deep knowledge on miniaturization of optomechanical components, running gear theory, levers, springs, properties of noble metals and creation of mechanical systems optimized for 35 mm RF cameras, enabled him to beget and manufacture the mythical horizontally travelling focal plane shutter with rubberized silk curtains (whose original patent dates back to May 1925) sported by the Leica II Model D and generating an exceedingly low noise on shooting, barely perceptible, that hasn´t been improved hitherto.

The extraordinary reportage The Harangue made by Capa in the Finca of Villa Alicia, one of the best and most important in his professional career, is fruit of the perfect synergy between a great photojournalist (featuring a professional experience of four years on September 5, 1936 - his first assignment had been to photograph Leon Trotski in Copenhagen in 1932-, who is at the right place at the right moment and approaches as much as possible to get the pictures) and the unmatched levels of discretion on capturing this kind of images from an amazing proximity allowed by the Leica II (Model D) thanks to its shutter release button producing very scarce and almost inaudible decibelic intensity when being pressed and making the photographer get unnoticed, the lack of a swivelling mirror enabling an outstanding stability shooting handheld without any trepidation up to 1/20 s which is the slowest feasible shutter speed possible attainable with this camera and its rangefinder magnification of 1x (possible thanks to the separate windows of VF and RF) allowing a very quick and accurate focusing, superior in this regard to the modern analog and digital Leica M cameras boasting a 0.72x RF magnification, and which Oskar Barnack had improved even more in 1933 with the Leica III, increasing the RF magnification to 1.5x and adding an independent slow shutter speeds dial.

The Leica II (Model D) was the first CSC (Compact System Camera) ever with a complete assortment of interchangeable lenses and accessories in the world. This mirrorless camera, the smallest and lightest one for 24 x 36 mm format made heretofore, with its dimensions of 13.3 x 6.7 x 3.3 cm, a weight of only 406 g and shutter speeds between 1/500 s and 1/20 s, was a masterpiece created by Oskar Barnack and the first Leica camera to feature a built-in rangefinder coupled to the focusing system. 

Capa (who is using a Leica II Model D with Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens) and Gerda Taro (also present in Villa Alicia estate) perceive the great photojournalistic, historical and social relevance of what is happening, and inevitably make themselves the question:

What can lead people belonging to civil society to take up arms and risk their lives fighting against professional troops, with a very high probability of being killed in combat?

Legionaries from the Army of Africa just arrived at Andalusia in late July 1936. From a military viewpoint they were clash elite infantry featuring a huge experience in ruthless colonial war in Africa, being very tough in fight, exceedingly skillful in the handling of guns and had a very high combat morale. Therefore, the militiamen appearing in the pictures of The Harangue made by Capa had to face highly professional troops, with no chance whatsoever, and they withstood them all they could. 

What makes them pluck up the remarkable courage they need to face a far superior enemy from a military viewpoint and whose high commanding officers have a combat experience in Morocco dating back to early twenties?

These four images epitomize very clearly not only the excellent accuracy in the timing on pressing the shutter release button of the camera, but also photojournalistic compromise to spare, to be in the adequate place and in the adequate moment and a remarkable ability to perceive the most defining instants and get great pictures like this one, along with many other things, who made Cornell Capa renounce to his career as a professional photographer to devote his life to the preservation of the immense and historical photographic legacy of his brother.

Inscribed in the Territorial Registry of the Intellectual Property of Madrid.
© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.
Published in FV Photography Magazine. Number 239

jueves, 19 de marzo de 2015


Robert Pledge, one of the most important and experienced picture editors in the world, founder of the French magazine of visual arts Zoom, le magazine de l´image in 1970, director of the New York Office of Gamma Picture Agency, founder of Contact Press Images Agency in 1976 with David Burnett, Member and Former President of the Board of Trustees of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, 2004 and 2010 receiver of the Olivier Rebbot Award for Best Reporting in Books and a man who has worked with a significant percentage of the foremost photographers  in the History of Photojournalism accepted very kindly to concede the following interview to our humble online photographic publication, which we do sincerely appreciate.

When did your interest in photography begin?

Robert Pledge: It came by chance, because my background was totally unrelated to photography. It had to do with anthropology and linguistics and I was also into music but not photography. I had specialized on Africa and African languages, and I got into journalism as an African affairs specialist.

But in early 1970 I had to go to Chad to cover a rebellion against the central government which was happening within the Tibesti mountains area, in the north of the country, and I needed a photographer to get pictures and a film maker to shoot scenes. I chose Gilles Caron as a photographer and Raymond Depardon who was a photographer and a filmmaker. Seeing both of them working is how I firstly became involved in photography and started discovering the world through it.

And very soon I also made contact with other photographers like Sebastiao Salgado, Annie Leibovitz, Li Zhensheng and David Burnett, with whom I founded Contact Press in 1976.

Subsequently, a small group of other photojournalists joined the agency: Lori Grinker, Dilip Mehta, Alon Reininger, Alexandra Avakian, Frank Fournier, Kenneth Jarecke ...

Which is in your viewpoint the reason for the significant drop in iconic pictures currently compared to the halcyon days of photojournalism?

Robert Pledge: Today there´s so much visual competition between television, photography, internet, etc. Maybe there´s less concern with iconic images than there was before.

At present, professional photojournalists do reportages mostly using high-end digital photographic cameras able to both get great quality pictures and often to record Full HD 1080 and even 4K video.There is more interest in longer term documentation rather than in the single images. The fact is that the digital cameras make fairly easier to shoot very much.

Which are the key factors that make up a good picture?

Robert Pledge: Many different things. I mean, the context, the mood people are in, the composition, the light, the content. It´s a combination of factors. It´s always a matter of getting the decisive moment in a way, but it´s not necessarily the decisive moment as people understood it from Cartier-Bresson.

As a matter of fact, the indecisive moment is also a decisive moment, so it´s almost a reverse. Id est, if a picture is good, it was a decisive moment in itself.

Frequently it is said ´A picture is worth a thousand words ´. Yes, maybe a few pictures are worth many words, but a picture is not worth a thousand words. Some of them might be, but most of them are not.

The same happens with the decisive moment concept. One of the things said by Cartier-Bresson was ´ The decisive moment is the instant in which the eye, the brain and the heart are in perfect alignment ´. That´s for him, it worked for him. But for somebody else it doesn´t.

For Robert Frank that´s not when the decisive moment is, so he called his decisive moments the indecisive moments.

Do you think that in near future video recording will be increasingly significant in the scope of photojournalism along with pictures?

Robert Pledge: I think it is already happening. Most photographers working for newspapers today can do video and photography, which might partially explain why there are fewer iconic images, because it is very difficult to concentrate on photography and make video at the same time. That probably accounts for the decrease of iconic pictures in the press.

Today, photographers see their digital images immediately after being taken, and if they are satisfied, go on and shoot something else. Before the digital age, photographers couldn´t check results instantly. They were following and digging into images, so chances were thay they would get something better.

The golden period of photojournalism featured an abundant presence of top-notch picture editors like Simon Guttmann, Roy Stryker, Stefan Lorant, Wilson Hicks, Maria Eisner, John G. Morris, Robert E. Gilka, Jimmy Fox, Horst Faas, Bill Garret, J.Bruce Baumann and others who utterly developed photography potential as a story teller tool, knew perfectly each photographer and his/her ability to specific assignments and insisted that photojournalists learned as much as possible about the subjects before photographing them. Don´t you believe this is an exceedingly significant side and that many more good pictures editors would be needed currently?

Robert Pledge: Of course. It´s the picture editors who make the good pictures. It´s the editing what decides what the good picture is. The picture editors are very often the persons who get through and find the images they consider to be the most relevant, and the ones being chosen are published and become famous pictures. To practical effects, the editor probably accounts for around 50% of the final significance of a photograph, together with the previous work of its creator. Besides, picture editors are also photojournalists.

Bearing in mind the current widespread economical crisis, do you think that the future of photojournalists could greatly be the searching of complementary earnings by themselves through the selling of books featuring their images, the creation of personal sites to foster their work, the development of courses and other activities?

Robert Pledge: Yes, photographers are trying to find other ways to show their images in the form of books, exhibitions, whatever it is available, including multimedia and internet.

Which ones have been in your opinion the main turning points in the History of Photojournalism?

Robert Pledge: The first significant one took place during late twenties and early thirties of XX Century, when technological developments like the improvements in black and white halftone printing techniques, the appearance of small cameras able to shoot handheld with short exposure times, the designing of little and highly luminous lenses, etc, enabled the spreading of great black and white magazines like Life, Picture Post, Regards, Look and many others.

The second one came around 1970 onwards, the time in which I began working in photojournalism, when television became the dominant force and there was a shift in illustrated magazines from black and white to colour through a reduction in printing costs of colour films as well as an increasing easiness to handle them and also as a consequence of the advertising.

This way, colour became predominant., and during seventies and eighties magazines and newspapers had advantage on television in terms of quickness with which they could move and publish, since films could be developed in one hour, and photographies could be edited and be very fast on the printed pages, with top-notch image quality, because the printing technology had evolved very much, reaching a great level, particularly with the best slides like Kodachrome and Ektachrome, while 16 mm film for TV was much longer to develop, more cumbersome to edit and broadcast in addition to needing a team of some persons featuring deep knowledge on lighting, composition, kinds of lenses, etc.

The third turning point was the appearance of the small computers used in photojournalism and the digital world, whose size became smaller and smaller until reaching the concept of laptops. It happened in early nineties and spread massively in a fast pace. This changed everything. From then on, it was apparent that TV was able to move more quickly than print photojournalists and could get the stories out faster.

The fourth turning point was the appearance of professional digital photographic cameras from late nineties featuring better and better image quality and different devices and systems able to send the pictures at full speed through internet, including mobile phones. This has also become a revolution affecting everything.

And of course, September 11, 2001 was another turning point in terms of communication, photojournalism and the fastness with which both still and moving images could be transmitted all over the world. That day we entered into another reality, so both the world and photojournalism were dramatically changed.

Internet has emerged stronger than ever to definitely stay and the photojournalistic context now is very different from the one existing when I founded Contact Press with David Burnett in 1976.

The interest of people for photojournalism is increasingly rising, with massive attendance to photographic exhibitions, presentation of books and acquisition of them. Which is in your standpoint the reason for this growing trend?

Robert Pledge: It´s true. People are more and more interested in photojournalism and also in the subject matter it speaks about. They want to see different works by photographers getting pictures in a number of countries and contexts, both with their images reproduced in books or displayed in worldwide exhibitions. It should also be highlighted the great activity of publishers promoting the photographs and their authors, along with the photography seminars and the portfolios reviews by famous professional photographers as a highly valuable means to help and guide prospective future photojournalists.

China has strongly entered the scope of photojournalism in XXI Century with figures like Wang Lu, Chen Qinggang, Jin Huang and others. Do you think that China will be in a position to become a photojournalist force in future?

Robert Pledge: China has got a great potential in photojournalism and there is currently a wide assortment of photography magazines online and printed alike, with editions featuring hundreds of thousands of numbers and millions of people having a burgeoning penchant for good photography.

And particularly during the last decade there has been a surge in the figures of new independent photojournalists and freelance photographers who are fulfilling a praiseworthy activity.

Photography is becoming a very active part of Chinese life and culture at present, including the creation of galleries all over the country and the organization of significant pictures exhibitions in every important city, above all in Shanghai and Beijing.

Regarding war photography, throughout the last years there have been some really gruesome pictures coming from the recent conflicts. Do you believe there should be any kind of limit or ethical boundaries as to publication?

Robert Pledge: That´s a difficult topic, because the debate in that regard has always existed. For instance, during Second World War, this kind of images were mostly suppressed by the American and European censorship.

These photographs existed but they were not shown. Both the American and Allied Forces agreed not to show these photographs, because of propaganda reasons and the fear that people could be sensitive and affected on watching them. That´s why they didn´t want to show harsh pictures.

Nowadays, to show incredibly gruesome images for the sake of it is very difficult for any publication that is sustained by advertising money. There´s a conflict between advertising and total freedom of expression.

© Interview and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza