Fieldtrip to the International Center for Photography


I took my students to the International Center for Photography in Manhattan this morning to have a look at the Robert Capa exhibition “This is War! Robert Capa at Work.”

With vintage prints, contact sheets, caption sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters and original magazine layouts, the stories are brought to life and give us a look at how Capa worked. The Falling Soldier, 1936; The Battle of Rio Segre, 1938; and Refugees from Barcelona, 1939, trace his reportage of The Spanish Civil War. China, 1938, document his six-month stay during the Sino-Japanese War. D-Day, 1944, and the Liberation of Leipzig, 1945, present his photographs of World War II.


[American soldier killed by German snipers]

We discussed the Spanish Civil War, including political cleavages in the Republican camp and the internecine rivalries between socialists, anarchists and communists.

Upstairs there are two other exhibitions. One includes some fantastic shots taken by Gerda Taro.


[Spanish militiawoman by Gerda Taro]

There is also a nice selection of posters and other propaganda.


Downstairs, in an alcove, one finds the work of Spanish photographer Francesc Torres. Torres documented a dig of a mass grave in Spain in a project titled “Dark is the Room Where we Sleep.”

In 2004, Barcelona-based artist Francesc Torres joined forces with a forensic anthropology team as they uncovered the mass grave. Torres photographed the work of forensics team, as well as the participation of local townspeople who became involved in the project. Torres has created an installation of black-and-white photographs from this documentation that poignantly and forcefully examines the relationships between war, violence, memory, and photography.


There are photos of the skeletons in the dirt and the artifacts that have not rotted away. One photo focuses on the hands of a dead man, a wedding ring around his boney finger. Other photos displayed the living relatives of the victims, wives, sons, daughters. In the years immediately after Franco’s death, many Spaniards preferred to ignore the painful past in order to move forward. They are slowly beginning to excavate these historical memories and address what happened in the past. As with any civil war, this conflict not only split the country around ideological concerns, it divided cities, towns, villages and families. And these divisions are not relegated to the past. The pope recently beatified close to 500 priests, nuns and monks killed during the conflict (follow the link for a post on this topic by Martin in the Margins).


While my interest was focused on the Spanish Civil War, my students were visibly more interested in the photos Capa took in China (many of my students are Chinese Americans) while working as part of a crew for the film “The 400 Million.” One the most heartbreaking images is captioned “Young boy killed while trying to protect his chicken and rabbit.” One can’t help but think “why?” when you see this sort of thing.

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