The Falling Soldier  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Falling Soldier is a famous photograph taken by Robert Capa, understood to have been taken on September 5, 1936 and long thought to depict the death of a Republican, specifically an Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL) soldier during the Spanish Civil War, who was later identified as the anarchist Federico Borrell García. The full title of the photograph is Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936.

There had been falangist allegations from the beginning that the picture was staged, but outside Spain the picture was believed to be a true documentary image until the 1970s.

Recent research indeed suggests that the picture was staged. It was definitely not taken at the battle site of Cerro Muriano, but at Espejo, some thirty miles away. Doubt has also been cast on the identification of the photograph's subject: Federico Borrell García is known to have been killed at Cerro Muriano, shot while sheltered behind a tree, and it has transpired that he did not greatly resemble the subject of the photograph.


The Falling Soldier was thought to capture the moment of a Republican soldier's death. He is collapsing backwards having been fatally shot. He is dressed in civilian-looking clothing but wearing a leather cartridge belt, and his rifle is slipping out of his right hand. Photographs taken earlier in the day appear to show the militiaman alongside his comrades in the Columna Alcoiana waving guns and greeting the photographer(s).

Capa’s photographs of the Loyalist militia at Cerro Muriano, including two pictures of fatally shot militiamen, were first published in the September 23, 1936 issue of the French magazine VU. Images shot at the same location were also published, a day later, in the magazine Regards. In the USA The Falling Soldier has been reproduced first in Life and then very many times. It has become a symbol of the Spanish Civil War and is one of the most famous war photographs of all time.


While some authors, like Capa biographer Richard Whelan, always defended the photograph's authenticity, since 1975 doubts have been raised. The 2007 documentary La sombra del iceberg claims that the picture was staged and that Borrell is not the individual in the picture.

In his 2009 book Sombras de la Fotografía ("Shadows of Photography") José Manuel Susperregui of the University of País Vasco concluded that the photograph had not been taken at Cerro Muriano, but had actually been taken at another location about Template:Convert away. Susperregui determined the actual location of the photograph by examining the backgrounds of other photographs from the same sequence as the "Falling Soldier", in which a range of mountains can be seen. He then e-mailed images to librarians and historians in towns near Córdoba, asking if they recognized the landscape, and received a positive response from a community called Espejo.

Since Espejo had been at some distance from the battle lines when Capa was there, Susperregui said that this meant that the "Falling Soldier" photograph was staged, as were all the others in the same series supposedly taken on the front.

Spanish newspapers, including the Barcelona newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya sent reporters to Espejo who returned with photographs showing an almost perfect match between the present day skyline and the background of Capa's photographs.

Willis E. Hartshorn, director of the International Center of Photography, asserted the photograph's veracity, suggesting that the militiaman had been killed by a sniper firing from a distance while posing for a staged photograph. Susperregui dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the front lines were too widely separated and that there was no documentary evidence about the employment of snipers on the Córdoba front.

Susperregui pointed out other contradictions in the accepted account of the photograph in his book, noting that Capa mentioned in interviews that the militiaman had been killed by a burst of machine-gun fire rather than a sniper's bullet, and also that he gave very different accounts of the vantage point and technique he used to obtain the photograph.

In a way, these findings also exonerate Capa. Before the latest findings on the topic, some writers had even suggested that Capa might have been responsible for the militiaman's death as the militiaman appeared to be posing for Capa when he was shot - possibly by a sniper.

Richard Whelan in "This Is War! Robert Capa at Work" states:

The image, known as Death of a Loyalist militiaman or simply The Falling Soldier, has become almost universally recognized as one of the greatest war photographs ever made. The photograph has also generated a great deal of controversy. In recent years, it has been alleged that Capa staged the scene, a charge that has forced me to undertake a fantastic amount of research over the course of two decades. (Nota 3) I have wrestled with the dilemma of how to deal with a photograph that one believes to be genuine but that one cannot know with absolute certainty to be a truthful documentation. It is neither a photograph of a man pretending to have been shot, nor an image made during what we would normally consider the heat of battle.|Richard Whelan in "This Is War! Robert Capa at work".

Further materials, old films containing images by Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour, came to light in early 2009, when a lost 'suitcase', containing hundreds of Capa's negatives was unearthed, having been taken to Mexico at the end of the war. These films are now with the Capa archives at the International Center of Photography in New York. The 'suitcase' is actually three cardboard boxes of negatives.

Hopes to find the missing negative of Capa's most famous picture were soon dashed, but the traveling exhibition of hundreds of images that toured major art galleries in 2008 showed pictures taken on the same location and at the same time. A detailed analysis of the landscape in the series of pictures taken with that of the falling soldier has proven that the action (whether genuine or staged) took place near Espejo.

Many of the images in this show were clearly staged and posed, including many famous images by both Capa and Taro from the Spanish civil war.

The falling man is part of a broken series of images and in the exhibition, the fifth in a sequence of seven shots. Other images from the sequence are missing. Images six and seven are of a second 'falling' soldier, who is not the famous man of shot number five. It is the striking similarity between these similar images 5,6 and 7, two of which were published on the same page of the early VU spread, that always has led some to conclude that the falling men were casualties of war and now allowed others to conclude that all the pictures in this series were staged by Capa. It made for successful propaganda for the Republican cause, but also furthered Capa's young career.

See also

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