May 28th, 2006
Robert Capa
In Love and War

Proving that Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” is Genuine: A Detective Story

by Richard Whelan
Copyright © 2002 by Richard Whelan
Robert Capa photographs copyright © 2001 by Cornell Capa

Another version of this article appeared in APERTURE magazine, No. 166, Spring 2002

When I began the research for my biography of Robert Capa, in 1980, one problem I inherited was that of dealing with an allegation of fakery regarding Capa’s 1936 photograph of a Spanish Republican (Loyalist) militiaman collapsing into death, the so-called Falling Soldier. (Its proper title is Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936.In this article the photograph will be referred to as The Fal ling Soldier;the man in the photograph, when not referred to by his name, will be called the Falling Soldier [intentionally not italicized].) The picture is one of Capa’s two most famous (the other being of a GI landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day), and it has often been hailed as the greatest war photograph of all time.

The allegation had first surfaced in 1975, in a book by Phillip Knightley, a British journalist and historian, about how war correspondents — ever since the beginning of the profession, during the Crimean War of the 1850s — had often distorted the truth.

Very little concrete information existed about Capa’s photograph. In August 1936, a few weeks after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Capa went to Spain with Gerda Taro (his lover, and herself a tyro photo-journalist) to cover the Republican government’s resistance to General Francisco Franco’s fascist rebels. The Falling Soldier was first published in the September 23, 1936, issue of the French magazine Vu (below), where it was reproduced with another, similar picture on the same page. The sub-head on the top of the page reads, “How they fell,” but there is no mention of where or under what circumstances the pictures had been shot. The stirring text reads, “With lively step, breasting the wind, clenching their rifles, they ran down the slope covered with thick stubble. Suddenly their soaring was interrupted, a bullet whistled — a fratricidal bullet — and their blood was drunk by their native soil.”

Some writers have claimed that both The Falling Soldier and the photograph published in Vu directly below it — showing a man in a further state of collapse — show the same man. Careful examination, however, leaves no doubt that they show two different men who fell on almost precisely the same spot. (The configurations of prominently upstanding stalks of grass in the two pictures are identical.) The Falling Soldier (below left) is wearing a white shirt and what appear to be khaki trousers; from each shoulder a strap runs straight down to a cartridge box at his waist; and he flings his gun away as he falls. The man in the other photograph (below right) is wearing a one-piece boiler suit; the straps running from his shoulders to his cartridge boxes cross at the center of his chest; and he seems to hold his gun firmly as his arm twists behind his back. Another photograph (above) shows the two men lined up with some of their comrades and waving their rifles. The man who was to become the Falling Soldier appears at the far left; the other is the third from the left.

When The Falling Soldier was published in the July 12, 1937, issue of Life magazine, the caption stated, “Robert Capa’s camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Córdoba.” Over the following years and decades, during and after Capa’s death, the photograph was widely published without any questions ever being raised about its reliability as an unposed document.

The allegation that Capa had posed his photograph was first made by O.D. Gallagher, a South African-born journalist, who, as a correspondent for the London Daily Express,had covered the Spanish Civil War, at first from the Nationalist (Franco) side and later from the Republican. Gallagher told Phillip Knightley — who published the story in his book The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam; The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker (1975) — that “at one stage of the war he and Capa were sharing a hotel room.” (Knightley does not tell us where or when during the war Gallagher had shared a room with Capa.) Gallagher told Knightley that at that time “there had been little action for several days, and Capa and others complained to the Republican officers that he could not get any pictures. Finally . . . a Republican officer told them he would detail some troops to go withCapa to some trenches nearby, and they would stage some manoeuvres for them to photograph.”

In 1978 Jorge Lewinski published in his book The Camera at War his own interview with O.D. Gallagher, in which the journalist claimed that Franco’s troops, not Republican ones, had staged the maneuvers. The glaring inconsistencies in Gallagher’s accounts to Knightley and Lewinski should have discredited his testimony, thereby ending the controversy immediately.

In any case, it is possible to document Capa’s travels in Spain between the outbreak of the civil war and the first publication of his photograph; he was never anywhere within several hundred miles of San Sebastián. Gallagher probably did share a room near San Sebastián with a photographer who made pictures of posed exercises, but that photographer was certainly not Capa. Nearly forty years after the events, Gallagher’s memory had clearly played a trick on him. No doubt in perfectly good faith he confused Capa with someone else with whom he had shared a hotel room there in 1936. There is no evidence that Gallagher and Capa ever met before January 1939, when they were both staying in the Hotel Majestic in Barcelona. On the night of January 24-25, as fascist troops entered the outskirts of the city, Capa photographed Gallagher (below) and Herbert Matthews preparing and telephoning their last dispatches (by candlelight, since the fascists had cut the power lines) before the three of them left the beleaguered city together to drive north to the French border and safety.

That a lapse of memory like Gallagher’s is possible, and even expectable, was dramatically demonstrated to me while I was conducting interviews for my biography of Capa. When I interviewed (by phone) cartoonist Bill Mauldin, whose vigor inspired my confidence in his perfect recall, he told me that he had been with Capa on the Roer river front in the spring of 1945. I told him that I was surprised to hear that, for I was quite certain that Capa had been somewhere else at that time. Mauldin assailed my doubts by assuring me that he remembered so clearly being with Capa that he could even describe the photographs Capa made on the Roer front, which were published in Life. His descriptions were so precise that I recognized the photographs instantly when I looked them up in the magazine. They had, however, been made by George Silk, not by Capa, who was then covering the paratroopers who jumped east of the Rhine.

In his book The Spanish Cockpit (London, 1937), Swiss journalist Franz Borkenau tells that he witnessed a battle around the village of Cerro Muriano, eight miles north of Córdoba, on the afternoon of September 5, 1936. He says that he was accompanied by two photographers from the French illustrated magazine Vu ,but he does not give their names. In fact, they were Hans Namuth, who had known Capa in Paris before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and his friend Georg Reisner.

That afternoon Namuth and Reisner photographed the terror-stricken inhabitants of the village as they were fleeing a fascist air raid. When I interviewed Namuth, he told me that he had not seen Capa and Taro in Cerro Muriano. But when Vu, in its issue of September 23, 1936, published (on the page facing Capa’s Falling Soldier) Capa’s photographs of some of the same people that Namuth and Reisner had photographed along the same road outside Cerro Muriano, Namuth realized that Capa had been there that day.

That fact provided the essential clue for pinpointing where Capa photographed The Falling Soldier. On the vintage prints preserved in the files of Capa’s estate with their original chronological numbering written on the back, the numbers of the sequence to which The Falling Soldier belongs immediately precede those of the Cerro Muriano refugee series. Since I had found that the numbering on those vintage prints from Capa’s first trip to Spain closely conformed to the chronology that I had established from other documentation, I concluded that Capa photographed The Falling Soldier during the battle at Cerro Muriano, on September 5, 1936.

Alas, the controversy raged on — with a superabundance of hot tempers and a dearth of objective analysis or research — until a fantastic breakthrough occurred in August 1996, when Rita Grosvenor, a British journalist based in Spain, wrote an article about a Spaniard, named Mario Brotóns Jordá, who had identified the Falling Soldier as Federico Borrell García and had confirmed in the Spanish government’s archives that Borrell had been killed in battle at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936.

The story of how Brotóns made his discovery is a fascinating one. Born in the village of Alcoy, near the city of Alicante, in southeastern Spain, Brotóns had himself joined the local Loyalist militia, the Columna Alcoyana, at the age of fourteen — and was himself a combattant in the battle against the Francoist forces under General Varela that took place on and around the hill known as La Loma de las Malagueñas at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936. When Brotóns’s friend Ricard Bañó, a young Alcoy historian, mentioned to him that he had read (in my biography of Capa) that Capa’s photograph might have been made during the battle at Cerro Muriano, Brotóns began his research. He knew that the man in the photograph must have belonged to the militia regiment from Alcoy, for the distinctive cartridge cases the man is wearing had been specially designed by the commander of the Columna Alcoyana and made by the leather craftsmen in Alcoy. No one in any of the other Loyalist militia units participating in the battle at Cerro Muriano would have worn such cartridge cases.

Because Brotóns had himself fought at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936, he remembered from his first-hand knowledge that Federico Borrell García had been killed there that day. In the course of his research, Brotóns contacted the historian Francisco Moreno Gómez (author of the definitive book about the civil war on the Córdoba front), who informed him that the records in the Spanish government archives in Salamanca and Madrid confirm that only one member of the Columna Alcoyana died at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936. Brotóns then could be certain that the man in Capa’s photograph must be Federico Borrell García. When Brotóns showed Capa’s photograph to Federico’s younger brother, Everisto, he confirmed the identification.

In his self-published book, Retazos de una época de inquietudes,Brotóns tells the story of the Alcoy regiment in Andalusía during September 1936. He recounts that Borrell, a 24-year-old millworker from Alcoy, was one of about fifty militiamen who had arrived at Cerro Muriano on the morning of September 5 to reinforce the Columna Alcoyana’s front line. That afternoon he was defending the artillery battery in the rearguard of the Alcoy infantry when enemy troops infiltrated behind the Loyalist lines and began firing at them from behind as well as from in front, hoping to squeeze the Loyalists in a vise. It was about five o’clock when Borrell was fatally shot. That time accords with the long shadows in Capa’s photograph.

In July 1998, at the time of a Robert Capa retrospective exhibition in London, Phillip Knightley came out with an article dismissing Brotóns’s discovery and stating, “The famous photograph is almost certainly a fake — Capa posed it.” He goes on to argue fatuously, “Federico could have posed for the photograph before he was killed.”

To provide a definitive refutation of Knightley’s absurd suggestion, that “Federico could have posed for the photograph before he was killed,” I turned to an expert whom I had met when I accompanied Cornell Capa to the University of Memphis, Tennessee, where Cornell gave a master class that was open not only to university students but also to qualified members of the public. One of the latter was Captain Robert L. Franks, the chief homicide detective of the Memphis Police Department and a talented sculptor and photographer. We had renewed our acquaintance several times on Capt. Franks’s visits to New York with groups from the university’s photography department. When I asked him, in September 2000, whether he would be willing to give me a reading of the two `moment of death’ photographs as if they were evidence in a murder case, he very kindly acceded to my request.

The most decisive element in his reading is the soldier’s left hand, seen below his horizontal left thigh. Capt. Franks told me in conversation that the fact that the fingers are somewhat curled toward the palm clearly indicates that the man’s muscles have gone limp and that he is already dead. Hardly anyone faking death would ever know that such a hand position was necessary in order to make the photograph realistic. It is nearly impossible for any conscious person to resist the reflex impulse to brace his fall by flexing his hand strongly backward at the wrist and extending his fingers out straight.

Taking all of the available information into consideration, I shall now put forward my hypothesis of Robert Capa’s experience on the afternoon of September 5, 1936, during the battle between various Loyalist militias and the Francoist forces led by General Varela.

across a shallow gully and hugged the ground at the top of its Capa encountered a group of militiamen (and at least one militia-woman) from several units — Francisco Borrell García among them — in what was at that moment a quiet sector. Having decided to play around a bit for the benefit of Capa’s camera, the men began by standing in a line and brandishing their rifles. Then, with Capa running beside them, they jumped to the far side, aiming and firing their rifles — thereby, presumably, attracting the enemy’s attention. I have always assumed that they next continued their forward advance, running down the exposed hillside. I now realize that that assumption is incorrect. What actually must have happened is that at least a couple of the men — including Borrell — turned around and climbed back up the side of the gully that was behind them when they pretended to fire. In Capa’s two photographs of the soldiers crossing the gully, we can clearly see, in the upper left corner of each picture, upstanding stalks of grass like those underfoot in the two `moment of death’ photographs.

Once Borrell had climbed out of the gully, he evidently stood up, back no more than a pace or two from the edge of the gully and facing down the hillside, so that Capa (who had remained in the gully) could photograph him. Just as Capa was about to press his shutter release, a hidden enemy machinegun opened fire. Borrell, hit in the head or heart, died instantly and went limp while still on his feet, as Capa’s photograph shows. As soon as he had fallen to the ground, comrades must have dragged his body immediately back into the gully. That would explain why his corpse is not visible in the other picture. Indeed, Capt. Franks concluded that the Falling Soldier was the first to be shot. He wrote, “I base this upon the cloud formation that seems to be tighter in [The Falling Soldier] and more dissipated in the [other] picture. The second soldier’s photograph is in focus, which indicates to me that Robert Capa had time to attend to the settings on his camera between the two shots.” wor Capa — presumably with at least a few of the militiapersons — must have remained safely in the gully until the coast was sufficiently clear to allow a return to the village. It is not known whether they carried with them the bodies of the dead or abandonned them on the hillside. In either case, Federico’s body was not returned to Alcoy for a proper funeral and burial.

The arrow indicates where Federico Borrell García was standing when he was shot; the X indicates where Capa was hugging the side of the gully.

There can be no further doubt that The Falling Soldier is a photograph of Federico Borrell García at the moment of his death during the battle at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936. May the slanderous controversy that has plagued Robert Capa’s reputation for more than twenty-five years now, at last, come to an end with a verdict decisively in favor of Capa’s integrity. It is time to let both Capa and Borrell rest in peace, and to acclaim The Falling Soldier once again as an unquestioned masterpiece of photojournalism and as perhaps the greatest war photograph ever made.

FURTHER READING

Borkenau, Franz. The Spanish Cockpit.London: Faber & Faber, 1937.

Brotóns Jordá, Mario. Retazos de una época de inquietudes,second edition. Alcoy: self-published, 1995.

Capa, Cornell, and Richard Whelan, eds. Robert Capa: Photographs.New York: Aperture, 1996.

Heart of Spain: Robert Capa’s Photographs of the Spanish Civil War.Catalogue ofan exhibition organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; with essays by Catherine Coleman, Juan P. Fusi Aizpúrua, and Richard Whelan. New York: Aperture, 1999.

Knightley, Philip. The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam; The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker.New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1975.

Levinski, Jorge. The Camera at War: A History of War Photography from 1848 to the Present Day. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.

Whelan, Richard. Robert Capa: A Biography.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985; London: Faber & Faber, 1985. Paperback edition published 1994 by University of Nebraska Press, 1994, and still in print.

  • Robert

    I am a young photographer, I am in highschool; a Sophmore… I would just like to say that I think Robert Capa was extremely brave and that his work is awesome and he has some very heart-pounding photos. I have picked him to do my Photography-I essay on and the deeper I dig, the more interested I am. Thank you Robert Capa for your extreme determination, it has helped me see that I can be an excellent photographer someday.

  • Peter Ball

    It is interesting to note that this same photo is known is Spain as “Muerte de un Miliciano” (Death of a Militiaman). Not “soldier”, not “loyalist”, but a “militiaman”. Clearly the Spaniards, who clearly know better, refuse to grant the status of soldier to Borrell Garcia. Lastly, the area of Cerro Muriano today is the base for one of the Spanish Army’s mechanized regiments.

  • Daniel Brian

    I have a problem with comparing Capra’s gulley-based shot of the column pressing on and that of the falling man. The position of the camera, relative to the surrounding ground in the gulley-based shot of the men pressing on clearly shows that the lens is well below the level of the ground. The shot of the falling man clearly shows that the camera must have been at a higher level than the ground. I do not say that this proves the picture to have been staged but it does refute the analysis made by Whelan as to how, when and from where the picture was taken.

  • Goicoichea

    > Clearly the Spaniards, who clearly know better

    Not necessarily! Don’t forget there are still diverse points of view in Spain over the Civil War. The establishment, many of whom supported Franco, would not like this man to be recognised as a soldier, whereas those who were fighting against centralised rule (and still are, e.g. the Basques) would regard him as a soldier. This is not unlike the ways governments use the words “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” to denote the same individuals today.

  • James

    Interesting that Whelan’s pursuit of integrity does not extend to a reflection on Capa’s incitement of the soldiers to “play around a bit for the benefit of Capa’s camera.. in what was at that moment a quiet sector”. From Whelan’s account I take the view that Capa’s manipulation of the situation in that gully resulted in a young soldiers unnecessary death, not an “unquestioned masterpiece of photojournalism”

  • alexis

    wow
    Capa’s cool ^-^

  • Alexander

    I have been harbouring a gut feeling about this picture being not quite right, or what it purports to be, for over fifty years. How did Capa get in front of the charge, I used to wonder? Now we have Whelan’s accounbt, with a strong partisan feel certainly, but well supported and argued. And then (last week) I went to a Capa retropspective at London’s Barbican. Now I’m a lot surer its not what it purports to be. The contemporary captions established the myth of an infantry charge. Whelan shows it was never that. But Capa never contradicted the myth, as far as we know, so he was complicit in the misrepresentation and the myth. We know he was a highly partisan reporter (good, so would I have been in his shoes, but let’s be clear about it). We know he was doing a prolonged, staged photoshoot with this and other soldiers that day. Whelan’s sound-looking hypothesis is that Capa was in down a trench, shooting up at an exposed, posing soldier when said poser caught a surprise bullet. I suppose that if you really badly need to, you can say presto!, we’ve shown the photo is genuine, because the subject really is caught at the moment of death by enemy buulet. But among the many photos on show at the retropsective, from the same shoot, same soldiers, is another, not as far as I know much remarked. In it the soldiers strike a pose aiming their rifles over a sandbag rampart defence, as at an advancing foe. One makes the “they got me” gesture, like he’s just been shot, in the manner of a playing child. Clearly posed, like all else that day. Elsewhere in the exhibition, we see on another day in another place Republican troops reenacting the previous day’s action for Capa’s camera. Propaganda with army co-operation. The man was a shamelessly partisan journalist with an agenda, routinely staging phoney pictures and letting them go out to the world as the real thing. He was working for the side I would have worked for, but nevertheless… Whatever else Whelan’s account contributes to historical truth, and it is much, it does not prove “integrity”, or justify or lead to the conclusion of his final dozen words. Rather it endorses the “truth is the first casualty” thesis.

  • jon

    “loyalist” militia is a misnomer. anarchists are loyal to no state, “democracy” or otherwise.

  • Richard Winter

    I believe the following discussion will make clear that it is highly improbable that the photo is an authentic moment-of-death combat shot.

    The existing pictures of the soldier and his unit prior to the famous photo show a group of militiamen who are clearly play-acting for the camera. Richard Whelan agrees, stating the soldiers “decided to play around a bit for the benefit of Capa’s camera” and that “they pretended to fire.” They were definitely pretending, for in one picture two men have not cocked their Mausers, one does not even have his finger on the trigger, and nobody is operating the rifle bolts or doing anything other than pointing their guns. And they are awfully exposed for people being shot at – one would think they would be laying lower if bullets were flying. This creates a real problem – not only was Robert Capa capable of setting up shots (or at least photographing bogus combat with the intent of publication), he was actually doing it in the minutes and seconds before the “Falling Soldier” photo was taken, and had done so prior. There are a number of photos of Republican troops pointing rifles at barricades and glaring steely-eyed over cannons that precede the point where Capa “finally found the front” (Capa’s words, based on photos and text from Richard Whelan’s “Capa: The Definitive Collection”).

    Now let’s consider the “Falling Soldier” photos that were published in Vu magazine. For Robert Capa to get the famous picture, he would have had to have his camera wound, f/stop and shutter speed set (cameras then were not automatic), the focus pre-set, the camera up to his eye, his finger on the shutter button, and the decision to press made. If the photo is genuine, Capa would not have had time to realize the man had been shot before taking the picture. This is a real marvel of luck, but admittedly not impossible. However, Capa then does it again, being completely ready with his camera to get another picture of another man who was also just shot and who has also fallen back and away on a remarkably similar angle, who also has his eyes closed, who also has his mouth closed, who also has no visible wound, who has landed in the exact (and I mean EXACT) same spot (where there is no sign of the first casualty), and both in the same compositional position in the frame. Wow, that’s a lot of coincidence. Worse, the camera is about two-to-three feet above the ground, so Robert Capa was quite a target when the second soldier got shot. And Capa does not change his position at all, not left or right, not forward or back, not up or down. The two photos are taken from the exact same spot, of soldiers shot and fallen in the exact same spot.

    Richard Whelan, Capa’s biographer and the lead proponent of the authentic-photo position, got a police detective to analyze the photo. Captain Franks found that the hand position was quite unnatural for a conscious person to have taken (Whelan has a fuller discussion of this is in the PBS article). If the hand position is as he states, then the photo would be pretty credible. But there is a visual perspective problem with this evidence. To look as it does in the photo, the soldiers hand is either palm up, fingers pointed towards the viewer (Whelan’s and Franks position), or it is palm down, fingers pointed away, which is consistent with the position that Captain Franks states a conscious person WOULD take. The photo is just not sharp enough to tell which way the hand is angled. However, there is a shadow on the outer edge of the palm that seems to indicate the hand it palm down, fingers away (but my testing is really crude and thus unreliable – perhaps some lighting specialist could provide some insight). This “definitive” evidence seems pretty inconclusive either way.

    So, based on the photos alone, the authenticity appears pretty dubious to me, but let’s see what else can be revealed. Richard Whelan provides evidence of the identity of the victim which seems to positively identify him as Federico Borrell Garcia, and I believe he is right. As well as the evidence given on the PBS site, there is also an article (on some web site that I cannot find at the moment) with an earlier picture of Borrell which is quite convincingly similar. Whelan also places Capa in Cerro Muriano on the afternoon Borrell was killed by finding the pictures of the same refugees taken by other photographers. And that creates another problem. Capa’s refugee pictures were taken in the afternoon, after the “Falling Soldier” photo (according to Capa’s own photo chronology system). Borrell was killed at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The shadows visible on and around the refugees are almost precisely the same as that in the “Falling Soldier” photo: it’s almost the same time. Same day, almost the same time, and afternoon shadows move quite quickly. Did Robert Capa really stop taking pictures just when combat started (and combat photography got interesting) and leave an exposed hillside under fire, then drive to the refugees, who are on different terrain and show no signs of being near gunfire (they are not running or hunkering; they are just walking), covering the distance in a very short period of time?

    So, do you believe Richard Whelan when he states that “there can be no further doubt that The Falling Soldier is a photograph of Federico Borrell García at the moment of his death during the battle at Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936″? I personally tend to think these photos were taken that morning, and that Borrell was coincidentally killed that afternoon. There is far less coincidence in that than in any possibility that the photo is authentic. I found a Spanish-language website (http://www.photographers.it/articoli/patricio_hidalgo.htm) that claims to show modern pictures of the place the picture was taken, and the appropriate shadow angle comes in the morning, not the evening. I have no way to confirm they were at the right spot, though.

  • luca

    Richard Whelan wrote: “The disturbing fact of the soldier’s flat-footedness, along with the equally disturbing inference that the man was carrying his rifle in a way suggesting that he did not expect to use it soon, led me to reconsider the story that Hansel Mieth, who had become a Life staff photographer in the late 1930s, wrote to me in a letter dated March 19, 1982. She said that Capa, very upset, had once told her about the situation in which he had made his famous photograph. “They were fooling around,” he said. “We all were fooling around. We felt good. There was no shooting. They came running down the slope. I ran too and knipsed.” “Did you tell them to stage an attack?” asked Mieth. “Hell no. We were all happy. A little crazy, maybe.” “And then?” “Then, suddenly it was the real thing. I didn’t hear the firing – not at first.” “Where were you?” “Out there, a little ahead and to the side of them.” Beyond that, Capa told Mieth only that the episode haunted him badly. He implied that he felt at least partially responsible for the man’s death – a feeling that he naturally did not wish to make public, and so he altered various details in his several accounts of the circumstances in which he had made his photograph.”

  • luca pagni

    Richard Whelan in 2002 wrote: “The disturbing fact of the soldier’s flat-footedness,
    along with the equally disturbing inference that the man was carrying his rifle in a way
    suggesting that he did not expect to use it soon, led me to reconsider the story that Hansel Mieth,
    who had become a Life staff photographer in the late 1930s, wrote to me in a letter dated March 19, 1982.

    She said that Capa, very upset, had once told her about the situation in which he had made his famous photograph.

    “They were fooling around,” he said.
    “We all were fooling around. We felt good. There was no shooting. They came running down the slope. I ran too and knipsed.”
    “Did you tell them to stage an attack?” asked Mieth.
    “Hell no. We were all happy. A little crazy, maybe.”
    “And then?”
    “Then, suddenly it was the real thing. I didn’t hear the firing – not at first.”
    “Where were you?” “Out there, a little ahead and to the side of them.”
    Beyond that, Capa told Mieth only that the episode haunted him badly.
    He implied that he felt at least partially responsible for the man’s death – a feeling that he naturally did not wish to make public,
    and so he altered various details in his several accounts of the circumstances in which he had made his photograph.”

  • luca pagni

    Richard Whelan in “This Is War! Robert Capa at Work”, 2007, wrote:

    “The image, known as Death of a Loyalist militiaman or simply The Falling Soldier,
    has become almost universally recognized as one of the greatest war photographs ever made.
    The photograph has also generated a great deal of controversy.
    In recent years, it has been alleged that Capa staged the scene,
    a charge that has forced me to undertake a fantastic amount of research over the course of two decades. (Note 3)

    I have wrestled with the dilemma of how to deal with a photograph
    that one believes to be genuine but that one cannot know with absolute certainty to be a truthful documentation.

    It is neither a photograph of a man pretending to have been shot,
    nor an image made during what we would normally consider the heat of battle.”

    “…For a review of the debates and evidence both pro and and con, see the comprehensive dossier

    compiled by photography critic Luca Pagni at http://www.photographers.it/articoli/cd_capa/index.html

  • luca pagni

    Richard Whelan in 2007
    in “This Is War! Robert Capa at Work” wrote:
    “The image, known as Death of a Loyalist militiaman or
    simply The Falling Soldier, has become almost universally
    recognized as one of the greatest war photographs ever made
    (fig. 40). The photograph has also generated a great deal
    of controversy. In recent years, it has been alleged that
    Capa staged the scene, a charge that has forced me to
    undertake a fantastic amount of research over the course of
    two decades. (Note 3)

    ” 3 For a review of the debates and evidence both pro and con, see the comprehensive dossier compiled by photography critic Luca Pagni at
    http://www.photographers.it/articoli/cd_capa/index.html
    Proponents of the argument that The Falling Soldier was faked include Phillip Knightley (to be discussed below) and Caroline Brothers; for the latter, see her War and Photography: A Cultural History (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 178-84.”

  • http://wink-blog.com/2009/05/14/robert-capa-and-the-mexican-suitcase/ Robert Capa and the Mexican Suitcase « WINk Magazine Blog

    [...] allegedly being shot. Although one of the most famous war photographs of all time, its authenticity is commonly questioned. The ICP asserts it was not a staged [...]

  • Kristian Heitkamp

    Richard Winter wrote:

    he would have had to have his camera wound, f/stop and shutter speed set (cameras then were not automatic), the focus pre-set

    [...]

    The photo is just not sharp enough

    As you correctly stated the cameras were not automatic those days, in this case this only counts for the focus, because the f/stop and shutter speed has to be set only once, when you start taking pictures and do not change the lighting. And as we can see from the pictures, they are all taken under the same lighting conditions.
    It is the same as I do, when I go out with my replica of a 1930s Contax rangefinder camera, technically close to the camera Capa was using (he used Contaxes during and after WW II, what he used before I do not know). Just put the settings for exposure when I get out of the door and leave it like that until I return home.
    About winding: Only beginners forget to wind directly after taking a picture. You do it once or twice and get so angry about missing this “decisive moment” that you will never do it again.

    And about focus you were right already: the picture ist slightly out of focus (just to say it in capas own words).

  • Paul

    How can you REALLY tell this was a staged photo? If not; if it is real, where does the picture (s) show the men being hit, or that stuff only really happens in Hollywood? (showing where people are being hit at the moment of impact). Thanks.

  • Ondre Nowakowski

    If we could know the sequence of the photographs either side of “falling..”
    it would help a lot – that other picture of another falling soldier (lets call it photograph ‘B’), is an identical shot from exactly the same spot (it is just sharper and with a slightly different tilt of the camera). If the ‘other.(.’B’.) one was shot after ‘falling.’ there would then be no doubt that ‘falling..’ was staged. One of them must have been staged – the photographer poised for one after the other without having to move from the spot and each victim falling in exactly the same place – just not plausible. If on the other hand the other ‘B’ was taken and staged first and then “falling…” the shooting incident – actually happened while being staged – this would be an incredible coincidence and though actually possible , incredibly unlikely.

    If both of these pictures were published in Vu together at least one of them must have been staged if not both.

  • M. Weston

    Many years ago, I saw a print of the contact sheet from which this photo is drawn. My memory of it (and the book I found it in) is fuzzy, and I have wished to be able to find it on many occasion since. A few things remain in my mind: there were other shots of the soldier on the roll adjacent to this photo. Most of them did not picture a scene of duress or battle. I also recall that the soldier appeared (was it the same man?) after the “death” image looking healthy and alive (was the roll shot in reverse order?). It seems to me any investigation into this image that does not investigate what the full roll of film tells us is missing a lot of the primary evidence. If anyone could point me to the book in question, I would appreciate it. If I had to guess, it was a book that showed famous photos in the context of the roll of film on which they came from. Thanks.

  • annuzska

    Do you know that he was a Hungarian Jewish, called: Friedmann Endre Ernő?
    His nickname was Cápa in Hungary which means shark…

  • David Tayler

    An very good example of shifting reality–something looks proved, then suddenly everything is turned upside down–in this case, the wrong location.

  • Will

    One everyone has seemed to have forgotten is the brilliance of the photo regardless of being staged or not but the pictures of the flag raising on Iwo Jima was the second one and staged but that is common knowledge. does this take away from the signifigance of the picture or the credibility no i think not so i wish people would let this issue be and leave it alone because there are more things we could put our minds and resources to…….

  • INGE BONDI

    No. 12 Comment: Luca Pagni: I worked with Capa though long after the No. 12 Spanish Civil War. Hansel Mieth is the only contemporary of Capa’s in above comments and the only contemporary photographer and what she said, according to above comment, sounds just like Capa talking. Seems to me this is the closest we can come to authenticity. Whelan of course was too young to have met Capa.

  • Tim Johnson

    I have just returned from Barcelona, where a retrospective of Capra’s work is displayed at the National museum. It is a stunning show. I did not know there was a controversy of the authenticity of the “falling soldier” when I viewed it. However, after having viewed that photograph and the other falling soldier in question, which is hung adjacently, I can only conclude that these are: 1) miracles of precise and incredibly lucky timing where two soldiers are caught in the exact instant of being shot, in the exact same location, in the same instant in time (the clouds and the related sunlight in the background are virtually identical)

  • C-Weezy

    i think capa is a brillant genuis at workkk
    go job brosipppppp :D

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