Discussion Topic: The Greatest War Photograph and Capa

Falling Soldier

Robert Capa "Death of a Loyalist Soldier" 1936

At the age of 23, Robert Capa took a photograph that many have labeled the greatest war photograph of all time.  Taken during the Spanish Civil War, the renown of Capa’s photograph, Falling Soldier or Death of a Loyalist Soldier, reverberated around the world as it was published and republished in contemporary news magazines.  However, Capa’s photo has been shadowed by controversy, including accusations of fakery.  Read an analysis on the image by Capa’s biographer, Robert Whelan, on the authenticity of the photograph.  Do you find his arguments convincing?  Do you think Capa’s photograph is staged or not? And do you think its authenticity matters?

Richard Whelan’s discussion of Capa’s photograph

Please post your responses by Saturday, May 12th.  Yes, you have until the end of the semester!



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10 Responses to Discussion Topic: The Greatest War Photograph and Capa

  1. It’s hard for me to think that someone who died at the First Indochina War with the camera in his hand proving that he was really into documenting real war facts faked a picture to capture a war battle. However, after some research I found more evidence that convinces me of the fakery than the evidence against it. Capa once said “If you want to get good action shots, they mustn’t be in true focus. If your hand trembles a little, then you get a fine action shot” like is the case of his famous pictures from Omaha Beach on D-Day. On those pictures, we can really see a lot of trembling, but to me the Republican soldier and the Falling soldier were taken from the exact same angle and in the exact same spot as we can see from the background landscape. (http: )
    In a picture from the same sequence we can see a soldier with the gun on top of him. The gun looks perfectly placed over the soldier, so if he fixed the position of the gun, he could have been directing the way in which other pictures were taken too. (http: )
    It is really strange that if in battle his focus was exactly at Federico Borrell. Why was he aiming at him? Was there any specific reason for that? Besides, it has been discovered that the pictures were not even taken at Cerro Muriano. They were taken at Espejo, over 30 miles away. (http: )
    Capa was a recognized photo-journalist because of his very realistic war pictures. However, I don’t think his good reputation and credibility as a war photographer are much damaged for this set of staged pictures since he even lost his life while covering a war event, but then, why did he staged these? Maybe Gallagher was right and “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 with Capa to some trenches nearby, and they would stage some manoeuvres for them to photograph,” so they went to Espejo and took the pictures there in Capa’s need for some action I think because of a deadline for having the war pictures ready. In any case, with or without controversy the Falling soldier is long going to be one of the most famous war photography of all times.

  2. mohsensoofi says:

    Yes, I do find some but not enough merit in his arguments especially the one about the folded fingers while falling down but I think that it still does not prove it to be a staged photograph. I think that even if the analysis that the soldier is dead is true, I still think that this is an original photograph. His eyes and head position also suggest that he may be dead only but that can happen by getting shot in the heart or head also. In reality he could have been shot then almost dead before starting to fall and the picture showing folded fingers. I also believe that the photograph’s authenticity does not matter as either way it remains a piece of art in the world of photography.

    • sarah52 says:

      This is a great war photograph, but the problem is as even in the text book they say in 2008 they have found three make shift suitcases belonging to Capa and his partners. The contained was the extensive cache of Capa’s negative. However, they could not find any negative from that day when the loyalist photograph was made. And authenticity does matter, if a person is a professional photo journalist he/she should set an example for others, faking or stealing someone’s photo should not be tolerated it is more like a crime to me.

  3. ahna0812 says:

    Robert Capa was very brave, his work is very good and he photo was Stimulate!! and this photo is one of Capa’s two most famous. about the pictures there is very little imformation about it, but in my opinion, i think this is the origininal photo by Capa. Also, i think the soldier shot by gun and it is dead, because of the emotion of his face, closing his eyes and his face emotion look like very hurt. im very proud of Capa, because tooking photography in the war is not easy, he is very brave and concentrate to take this amazing photo.

  4. Jian Huang says:

    i remember the classmates were having a discussion on this photo, and we were having a difficult time to find out weather the photo is staged or not. If you look at the photo Robert Capa has the perfect timing to photograph this soldier while his falling back on his feet while being shot. However i think this photo is staged because the timing seems too unusual and i don’t see any blood.

  5. Alexis Y says:

    I do believe that Robert Wehlan argument was convincing. I think it makes sense that when Capa took the photo, it was not intentional for him to capture the solider falling, and it was just coincidental. I don’t believe that the photo could be staged. The whole argument where it was believed that Federico Borrell García posed for the photo doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean you are at war and on the battle field, I cannot possibly think that the mind of a solider has time to think of posing for a camera, when he might die at any minute.

  6. zee215 says:

    I have to agree with Robert Wehlan’s opinion on the Falling Soldier photograph. The fact that his fingers are curled up in such a way that only someone that is not concerned about falling, and is already dead or about to die, would position them that way.

    Another reason I believe that this photograph cannot be a fake is by what Capa went through to capture the D-day photos. That showed me that Capa is one of the bravest war photojournalist ever and I will never question his integrity

    • aleckzzz23 says:

      That is your opinion, but there are facts out there. Robert Wehlan takes in consideration only those facts and evidences that can support his point of view. If you look at the left hand carefully then you would see that it might be positioned palm down, protecting the falling body and in the right position. All the other photos from the same series show that Capa was shooting fake maneuvers staged especially for his camera. Moreover soldiers pretended to be dead in other photos from the series. Also the place seems to be different from which Capa mentioned. His eyes closed because he is facing the direct sun. After all it is impossible to take only two photos and caught two different soldiers getting shot at the same spot within a very short time span.
      Regarding the D-day photos. So Capa took them years later. During the Spanish Civil war he was just 23 years old and this was his first war experience. I am not denying that Robert Capa is one of the best war photographers ever, but claiming that he caught an unexpected death moment with a single shot, is not making him look any better. Or he was a god blessed genius???

  7. superartist says:

    First of all Robert Capa is not his real name so how can I really know for sure that this photo is not staged . I mean to me it looks like the death was meant to be real. But it could be said for any picture that he can take. To me I want to believe that this picture is not staged but I don’t know for sure . All I say is that whole point of photography is to capture an idea , a moment and for the viewer to actually see what is going on. As an artist when I make art and express it what I want viewer to see what I visually see . Its the same with Robert capa he shows wants you to see or make you believe.

    This is my post!

  8. aleckzzz23 says:

    The veracity of Robert Capa’s falling soldier photograph has been questioned for years. There are a lot of relatively new evidences that can be hardly denied. First of all Capa and his lover-colleague Taro exposed at least couple of films at that day. You can find those series of images that were taken at the same place and time, depicting same soldiers. On those images soldiers were just fooling around: running up and down the hill, aiming their riffles at the non-existent enemy, jumping trench, simulating to be dead and so on. It is clear that there were no battle at that day. Soldiers behaved so freely and for sure did not expected any danger from anywhere.
    Another evidence, that questions the place of the event, was discovered recently. The continuous landscape on the background of three images from the Capa’s series matches perfectly the modern day landscape of the town of Espejo, which is 30 miles away from Cerro Muriano (the location claimed by Capa.)
    One more obvious observation. The two different soldiers, according to Capa hit by bullet, were shot at the precise same spot. Look at the distinctive grass and the background.
    So, what can we know for sure? The name of the real place were changed because of the lack of combat activities at the real place of Capa’s shooting. It is no doubt from the images themselves that the maneuvers of the soldiers were fake. Also the falling soldiers were shot at the same spot.
    Now, here is my question. Why Capa could have not staged those two images, while everything else appears to be false and staged?! Also I cannot believe in such enormous coincidence when Capa was so close to the subjects at the moment of bullets hitting and it happened twice at the same place within a short time span. He supposed to push the shutter right at the moment or even before that happened. But how he supposed to know about that firing before the firing happened especially if it were single shots.
    Let’s pretend it happened according to Richard Whelan and the corpse of first soldier was dragged back into the gully. Ok, but after that happened Capa did not moved for even an inch and was still aiming his camera at the same spot, waiting for the next sacrifice?! And probably stepped on that corpse with his foot to make himself more still — that’s why the second picture is more sharp and not so fuzzy. This is an absurd as well as the theory of Richard Whelan. As Capa’s biographer Whelan just tried to defend the Capa’s reputation.
    I am seriously doubt that the Capa’s falling soldier is a real moment of death photograph, it is beyond the possibility of coincidence. There are so many evidences that make it hard to believe. Anyway Robert Capa was a great photojournalist and he proved it with his career.

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