Digital History Seminar: 20th Century Spain

Staged Photos of The Spanish Civil War

On July 21st, 1936, Marina Ginesta was 17 years old and a member of the Juventudes Socialist-as Unificadas, a branch of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party during the Spanish Civil War.  She and the rest of her faction had just defeated an uprising in Barcelona, and were living out of the Hotel Colon in Plaza de Catalunya in what she referred to herself as a "bourgeois manner" until their supplies ran out.  The photographer was Hans Gutmann, a German who went by Juan Guzman while in Spain.  At 89, Ginesta was interviewed about this photo, and revealed that she didn't know the photo even still existed, and that it was staged.  Ginesta and her faction had been celebrating their victory and Gutmann was snapping photos.  Another member of the USY lent Ginesta the machine gun for the photo, after making her swear to return it [1].

Many believed this photo was a spur of the moment decision, mid or just post-battle, due to the gun and the sense of pride on Ginesta's face.  Just because the photograph was staged doesn't mean the sense of pride, confidence, and wonder are gone.  This exhibit will examine some of the famous photos of the Spanish Civil War and the arguments for their being staged or genuine, and the importance of that. 

To begin, we must introduce the famous photographers whose works this exhibit will be examining.  Hans Gutmann, who photographed the rooftop image of Marina Ginesta, was a German born Jewish man who joined the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War and later became a Spanish Citizen and changed his name to Juan Guzman.  After the war, he fled to Mexico where he worked for Mexican magazines and became a friend of Frida Kahlo and other Mexican artsits, taking photos of their works and of them for magazine articles. [2]

Next is Robert Capa, who fled political repression in his home country of Hungary as a teenager.  After seeing Hitler's rise to power, he moved to Paris where he met Gerda Taro.  The two were engaged and traveled to Spain to document the war, having just started their careers as photojournalists.  Capa is believed by many to be one of the greatest war photojournalists of all time, and he photographed the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the First Indochina War, and many others, was the only civilian photographer landing on Omaha beach on D-Day, and his works were pictured in newspapers and magazines all over the world. [3]

Gerda Taro was far more than just the fiance of Robert Capa who tagged along on his journeys.  She contributed much to his early portfolios but soon began her own photojournalism work.  Taro was a German born Jewish woman who fled to Paris to escape Hitler where she met Capa and they started their work as war photojournalists in the Spanish Civil War.  Tragically, Taro was involved in an accident involving a tank while working and was killed. [4]

Finally, David Seymour was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw, and went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris where he gained an interest in photography.  His first credited published photo was in Regards magazine, and he began working for them.  The magazine sent him to report on the Spanish Civil War, and 25 of his stories were used in two and a half years. After the war, he moved to America and enlisted in World War II as a photographic interpreter, and after the war was employed by UNICEF to travel throughout Europe and document the struggles of refugee children. [5]

These photographers risked their lives, Taro even losing her life, to document the Spanish Civil War through photographs.  While the war had lasting effects on the political scene of Europe, they also took some of the most iconic images of the war.  However, some of their images have been rumored or discovered to be staged.  Continue through the links below to learn about some of these photos and the arguments for them being staged. 

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