New cache of photos may solve Capa Spanish civil war pic mystery

A long-lost cache of negatives of pictures taken by famed war photographer Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War has turned up after nearly 70 years.

The negatives – more than 3,000 altogether – were left behind in Paris by Capa when he returned to the US in 1939. It was assumed they had been taken by the Germans when they seized France.

That was what Capa believed right up to his death in Vietnam in 1954. In fact the negatives ended up in Marseilles with a Mexican general turned diplomat who took the negatives – in three cardboard boxes that had once been used for chocolates and candies – when he returned home to Mexico. Only recently were they found. Now they are being turned over to the International Centre of Photography in New York which was founded by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell. Rights to the negatives have been turned over to Capa’s family.

“This is the holy grail of Capa’s work.” Brian Wallis, chief curator of the photo museum, told the NY Times. Experts will now examine and catalogue the pictures. Experts from the George Eastman company say the negatives appear to be in remarkably good condition considering they have been in chocolate boxes for so many years, So far they say they have only peeked at the negatives . But already spotted: a picture of Ernest Hemingway.

The collection it is hoped may also solve a mystery that has long surrounded Capa’s work in Spain. One of his most famous pictures is that of a Republican militiaman, falling backwards still clutching his rifle, having apparently just been struck in the chest or head by a bullet. The picture created a sensation when it was first published. It evoked strong sympathy for the Republican cause. But was it genuine? Did Capa fake the picture. No negative was ever found at the time. Maybe it’s among the newly-discovered cache. That’s what’s hoped.

Capa, in his day, was the epitome of the globe trotting war photographer, a cigarette always dangling from his mouth, his camera slung from his belt. Although born in Hungary, he always described himself as an American photographer.

His fearlessness awed many of his colleagues, who included Hemingway and Steinbeck.

William Saroyan referred to him as “a poker player whose sideline was picture taking”. His pictures nevertheless set a new standard for war photography.

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