Photojournalism’s Founding Photo Framed as Fraud

08/19/2009 9:38 AM |

Robert Capas falling soldier

The legacy of Robert Capa, the Hungarian photographer whose iconic photograph of a soldier falling from a gunshot during the Spanish Civil War (pictured) basically reinvented photojournalism as the discipline we know now, has recently been called into question. The Independent reports that Spanish newspaper El Periodico claims in a recent investigation that the location where that photograph was actually taken is some 50 kilometers from the spot where Capa claimed to have shot it, and at least 10 km from the nearest battle front, which wasn’t even active at the time of the photograph. The shot and the shot of the shot, in other words, were staged. Presumably this is supposed to be a big deal.

So, was Capa a big scam artist, or just a starving young photojournalist trying to make some money and a name for himself? More importantly, does this allegation detract from the impact of his career or the force of the image? Well, if anything, whatever controversy results from this claim it will likely make Capa an even more fascinating figure. Likewise, the image’s power is nearly independent of its historical context at this point, and the suggestion that it may have been staged introduces an interesting postmodern wrinkle to the assumption that photojournalists record truth. The ultimately unverifiable claim by the Spanish newspaper provides one of modern history’s most important images with another layer of intrigue. Click here to read more details of the investigation.