Thursday, April 30, 2009

Scenes from forgotten war like ghosts from the past

Some long-lost work of one of the pioneers of photojournalism has surfaced, shedding light on one of the long-forgotten wars of the past.

Robert Capa is known as the pioneering war photographer for his work covering the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, which was essentially a tune-up for Hitler to try out his new weapons and give his troops some experience prior to launching World War II.

The strange thing about the Spanish Civil War is that the Communists were considered by the liberal press -- and Capa and his fellow war photographers -- as the good guys in this confrontation with the Nazis who were trying to take over Spain. There were no good guys in that Nazi-vs.-Communist war, unlike WWII which followed. But then liberals seldom get history right.

The long-lost 35mm film that has surfaced are some 4,300 negatives taken by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War, groundbreaking work that was long thought to be lost but resurfaced several years ago in Mexico City.

The top photo is by Seymour of a Spanish partisan who proudly wears a Nazi swastika on his beret. Next photo is of Taro, who was Capa's co-worker and sweetheart, who was killed in 1937 when run over by a tank.

You can view a slideshow of some of the images here at the New York Times online. The article about the restoration of the photos in the NYT is here.

And though Capa is widely credited with being the first war photographer, I did some research in Photojournalism school at the University of Missouri at Columbia about a far earlier war photographer than Capa, who really was one of the pioneers of the dangerous art.

His name was Timothy O'Sullivan and many of the photos of the American Civil War which were credited to Matthew Brady were actually taken by O'Sullivan on the battlefields. He worked for Brady and sent his glass-plate negatives to Brady in New York, who etched his name on the plates.

O'Sullivan was the first photographer on the scene at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., and his images of the war dead are still haunting today.

O'Sullivan was also the first photographer to travel down the Colorado River as part of a mapping expedition in 1871, where he took many beautiful photos of the American west, including the first of the Grand Canyon. He took the below photo in Black Canyon.

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