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Photo by Gerda Taro
La Maleta Mexicana
Spectators at the funeral parade of General Lukacs, Valencia, June 16th, 1937
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Photo by Robert Capa
La Maleta Mexicana
Republican refugees being marched down the beach to an internment camp, Le Barcarès, France, March 1939
Local history aficionados were standing on top of each other at MNAC on a recent Sunday morning in order to view the recently recovered treasure trove of images from the Spanish Civil War. And rightly so. Considered forever lost for decades, the so-called ‘Mexican Suitcase’ of Robert Capa came to light in the Nineties and after years of scrupulous examination by scholars, the 4,500 images from the Thirties have once again come alive. The ‘suitcase’ is actually three cardboard boxes of thoroughly labelled negatives, and since their rediscovery, they have formed part of the Capa archive at the International Center of Photography in New York.
MNAC has mounted a handsome, but appropriately sober, installation that is visually integrated by a series of rebared walls that have the effect of making the visitor feel ‘caged in.’ It is a convincing device that leads one ever more deeply into the world of war and internal conflict that was Spain of the Thirties.
Although Capa (born Endre Friedmann in Budapest in 1913) is given top billing, the photographs are also by Capa’s lover Gerda Taro (la pequeña rubia), and David ‘Chim’ Seymour. The three were pioneers in the field of photojournalism, and this complete record of war images, shown in its entirety and in the precise order in which they were taken, gives chronological perspective to some of the better-known pictures.
These include Capa’s Battle of Rio Serge photos, Chim’s famous image of a woman nursing a baby at a land reform meeting in Extremadura, and Taro’s last photos at the Battle of Brunete where she died in 1937.
There are famous personalities from the era such as Ernest Hemingway, Federico García Lorca and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria), but Capa and company focused primarily on the grim faces of war: anonymous soldiers and civilians whose lives had been torn apart. The stills, negatives and contact sheets are complemented by documentary film from the era, which effectively create a rhythm to break up the static activity of peering at small black-and-white photographs and also enhances their historical content.
Following its debut in New York the exhibition is next travelling to Bilbao, Madrid and Paris. Its universal language of pain and suffering and the portrayal of the efforts to turn back global fascism, could thus reach a considerable audience both within and beyond the country in which the images were created.
La Maleta Mexicana, MNAC, until January 15th, 2012