Robert Capa will forever be known for his groundbreaking war photography, but no photograph leaps out more than the iconic “Falling Soldier”, or to give it its full name: Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936.
The photograph was of course taken during the Spanish Civil War and has become perhaps the most recognised example of war photography.
Capa was on assignment in Spain alongside his (photographic and romantic) partner Gerda Taro and Polish photographer, David Seymour. Gerda Taro sadly died following a collision with an out-of-control tank. On assignment alongside Capa was an established journalist named Ernest Hemmingway who would later become famous for his novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
The Falling Soldier was published in newspapers and magazines around the world. Though the picture has been marvelled at for over 80 years; during that time many doubts have arisen that call into question the picture’s authenticity:
Capa claims the photograph was taken at the battle site of Cerro Muriano. The republican soldier is claimed to be Frederico Borrell García. Capa claims that he was stood in a trench as he took the photo, holding the camera above his head. Details from Capa himself vary, in some interviews he says the soldier was mowed down by machine gun fire, in some interviews he says the soldier was killed by a sniper (though there are no records of snipers at Cerro Muriano).
Later research into the background of the image has found that the picture was most likely taken in Espejo, 30 miles away from the battle site. Even the subject of the photo is heavily disputed: it’s claimed that Frederico Borrell García was killed elsewhere and the subject in the image Capa took didn’t even resemble him.
To me, it’s not important whether or not the image was staged – which seems likely. It is, of course, wrong if indeed Capa did lie. To present a staged photo as a piece of documentary photography is disingenuous and mocks those whose work is integral. But “The Falling Soldier” is a photo that is cemented into our minds decades after it was taken and proves that a single frame can stun the world. Regardless of whether or not it was staged, the world took notice and the image undoubtedly evokes emotion.
Robert Capa went on to document 4 subsequent wars including the Second World War. After the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Capa asserted that he wouldn’t photograph another war.
Though he did in fact choose to take on an assignment in 1954 photographing the First Indochina War. On the 25th May 1954, Robert Capa was killed after stepping on a landmine. He was only 40 years of age.