Capa Two

Just a few more thoughts on Capa before we move on. Larry Walker’s comment about belief and reality strikes home: “If I believe the Capa snap is a picture of a soldier just killed, lacking any evidence one way or the other, does it matter?”

Capa’s job was to report on the war in support of the Republican cause. He was employed by Vu magazine, and the photos appeared in a special issue supporting the Republicans. He was, in short, a propagandist. If he was shooting training exercises and an editor seeing the picture with the caption, The Falling Soldier chose to believe it was a picture of a man dying, what difference does it make? Either way it succeeds in its purpose, which was to create sympathy for the Republican cause.

I doubt Capa set out to deceive, but he gave at least three different versions of the circumstances of the photo. In one he said that he was ducking down beside the hill and holding the camera over his head when he released the shutter. The film was then sent off to France to be developed. If this is true, he didn’t know what he had captured. When the magazine claimed it was the moment of death, what could Capa do?

If he contradicted the editors, he would lose all credibility, probably forever, and certainly lose his job. He would also damage the cause he passionately supported. Capa was a gambler: sometimes poker, sometimes he put his life on the line. In this case, when everyone felt he held the winning hand, and it would have been foolish to fold, he went all in. Was it a bluff? Maybe. We’ll probably never know, but it makes for a very interesting story.

A fascinating and enigmatic man who hated war and was never happy when he was away from it, Capa spent his life surrounded by beautiful women, poker playing artists, and soldiers fighting for their cause, their country, or just their lives. He wasn’t a very good poker player – Huston would win back all the fees he paid him to shoot stills for his films – and he was never able to commit to any of the women he loved. He was a great war photographer and a dedicated anti-fascist who lost his life covering the ridiculously futile French colonial effort in Vietnam for the vehemently anti-communist Life magazine of Henry Luce. The final irony in a complex life.

Here’s a link to Magnum Photos, the cooperative of photojournalists founded by Capa and others where you can view The Falling Soldier and a whole lot of other great images.

Visa Pour L’Image 2012

Nice to take a break from the wine business and focus for a while on the rest of the world’s problems.

Visa Pour L’Image runs for two weeks in September and in that time the entire city of Perpignan becomes a gallery. There are exhibits everywhere: in bars, clothing stores, post offices, theaters and restaurants. Makes you want to be a photographer.

Eglise des Dominicains ©2012 Ron Scherl

The major venues are spectacular. I spent several days there trying to absorb the images in small doses. After a little while it becomes overwhelming and you just stop seeing, in the same way people can watch war and suffering on the nightly news and it stops having an impact because you just can’t take anything more to heart. That is, if anyone still watches the nightly news.

Now, of course, we get most of our coverage online, in video and immediately, but this is a chance to probe deeper and reflect on what we’re seeing. We absorb the message in our own time through the power of the still image. We’re seeing one moment in the stream of time, a fraction of an incident that reflects the magnitude of what’s happening and generates a greater intensity and intimacy than video. I know I’m swimming upstream here, but I still revere the still image and its place in the transmission of information and advocacy of a cause.

Couvent des Minimes ©2012 Ron Scherl

There’s an expression in French: Avoir le feu sacré, which is translated as “to have an activity or a passion that allows you to live life fully and to continue to pursue it despite obstacles.” This is Stephanie Sinclair on Child Brides.  We know the marriage of children exists but we usually choose to look away and focus on more immediate problems; Sinclair recognized that there is nothing more immediate to these children than being forced into perpetual sexual slavery.  She uncovers the horror of a nine-year-old girl being sold to her uncle to settle a gambling debt and details how widespread the practice of selling pre-teen girls into marriage has become. And she was not content to record it and go on to the next assignment, but has devoted herself to the story, pushing for multiple publications and enlisting the aid of international organizations to help end the practice. She is determined that her photos will make a difference and she is an example for every journalist working today.

Every time someone brings up paparazzi vultures and royal breasts, I’m going to counter with Stephanie Sinclair.

The other exhibit that really moved me was the Guantanamo portrait project of Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer. This is an unusual group of images, not traditional news photography but carefully posed and impeccably lit formal portraits of prisoners in Guantanamo. These are men who were locked away on suspicion, never charged and eventually released and in these intense and compelling portraits they appear to be clinging to what remains of their dignity and humanity. The studio lighting, limited palette, high resolution images and precise prints establish a neutral tone and allow these sensitive portraits to reveal both the suffering and the strength of the subjects.

There’s much more of course, all the major stories of the year and in-depth looks at places we hardly knew existed, but I need to give a nod to Doug Menuez and his coverage of the birth of the digital revolution in Silicon Valley from 1985-2000. Doug made this story his own and it was a treat to see this work again after so many years.

And finally, in what I hope has become an annual tradition, I had the pleasure of the company of three beautiful and talented photographers. Lucky guy.

Sarah, Helen and Jess ©2012 Ron Scherl

Visa Pour L’Image

Here’s the Place Republique in Perpignan most days:

Market in Perpignan
Market in the Place Republique, Perpignan ©2009 Ron Scherl

Like many great cities, Perpignan provides a lovely public space that serves as meeting place, living room, market and cafe for many people. The market is there most mornings and the square is surrounded by good food shops and cafes. Think of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza San Marco in Venice, now scale it down in size, number of tourists and architectural ambition and you have the Republique in Perpignan, a place appropriate to its setting.

Now take a look at the place in the evening during Visa Pour L’Image:

Photo of Visa crowd
Overflow crowd at Visa Pour L'Image ©2011 Ron Scherl

This is one night in a week of presentations and this is the overflow audience, those who couldn’t get in to the program at the Campo Santo. They’ve filled the plaza to watch the video broadcast of the presentation of the year’s best photojournalism. It’s astonishing to see a crowd like this paying attention to the images and paying homage to those journalists who risk everything to tell a story. I’m in awe of them and very fond of this city that welcomes and honors them.

Incredible Images, great storytelling, courage, a commitment to telling the truth, as we democratize the news and encourage citizen reporting, it’s important to remember the value of professionalism.