Digital History Seminar: 20th Century Spain

Sacred Heart

The final example of staged photographs from the Spanish Civil War is the image of communist soldiers aiming at the Sacred Heart of Getafe.  The giant statue of Jesus Christ, built in 1919 near a 14th century monastery, is being pointed at by young soldiers of the Republican army.  The statue was destroyed during the war, but not entirely demolished as it was later relocated and used as a decoration of a massive underground church that is well traveled by Catholics even today. 

The reason this image is believed to be staged is because although the monument had bullet marks dating from the war, they were not from guns fired at the angle of the guns in this picture, which likely couldn't have reached the statue any way.  The actual figure of Jesus Christ had no bullet marks, and in the photo the soldiers are aiming directly at Him.  The bullet markings were all lower on the monument and it can be inferred that they were made after the monument was being demolished, which was after the nearby monastery was ransacked.  Accompanying the famous image of this event is a photo that was also publicized when denouncing the "savage communists", which is a wide shot of the event.  There are more people in this image, and a more casual feel to the atmosphere as the girl in the foreground behind the shooters has her hands on her waist in a care-free manner.  It looks less like the men to the right of the photo are ordering anyone to shoot and more that they are trying to get a better look at the monument.  [1]

The image could have been some young communist soldiers joking around in a morbid manner, or possibly even faked by the Francoist propaganda offices.  It would have served to offend Francoist soldiers, who held onto their religion tightly and used it to strengthen their beliefs in the war effort and desire for Franco to take control of Spain.  Displaying someone acting violently towards their God, Catholics would be enraged and ready to join the fight to bring down any sign of communism. [2]

In conclusion, these images show us that the documentation of war is rarely ever black and white.  It is a gray space that is filled with bias, finger pointing, and sometimes blurring lines to make someone out to be the enemy and someone else to be the victim.  All the images discussed in this exhibit are important, influential, and served a purpose whether staged or not.  They were still used to sway people to believe one way or another, but that phenomenon is not contained to the Spanish Civil War, or war in general.  It is important to not take images at face value and to instead use them to learn about the beliefs that were trying to be displayed when the photos were taken. 

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