In thinking and reflecting on the work of Robert Capa on what would be his 100th birthday, I find myself doing what I always do no matter the subject matter. I scratch and ask ‘how does this relate to me? As an artist, I’m selfish. It has to always be about me. I look at things and think: What can I steal? What can I make my own? In Capa’s case, how can photographs taken during long ago wars in the 1st half of this century inform my own practice. In my selfish scratching and looking, I find myself drawn to one of his most famous images “Falling Soldier” and the decades old controversy surrounding its authenticity. The photo depicts the moment of death by bullet for a socialist soldier in the Spanish civil war in 1936. Some claim the photo is a fake and was staged, some claim it is real. Some claim the soldier slipped on loose gravel, while others claim that due to the location and the angle of the sun it’s not possible that it is real. It’s easy to find compelling and numerous arguments for both the authenticity and falseness of the photograph, and it is here where I find my hook into the work of Capa. It in no way matters if this photo is real or fake; if staged or if taken in the heat of a real battle. Photography now feels as if it’s in an age where real can be real even if it is not real, and real can feel fake even when it is not fake. The photograph no longer needs to be real. The photograph no longer needs to be and cannot be a specific moment in time at a specific place. Time no longer can be defined by a specific photograph taken at a particular time. A photo can be all of these things, but it can also be theater. Or it is always theater. Or it can be both real and theater, or real and fake. Experts argue over validity and whether or not this particular photo tarnishes Capa’s legacy. I find that this photo and it’s real fake-ness or fake real-ness makes his work contemporary in a way that none of his other images fulfill.
I hope we never find the truth in this photo, as it seems more powerful and more true to photography in all it’s cloudy real fake real tendencies.