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Isabel Hilton 'The Camera never lies'

Federico Borrell García, a young Republican militiaman in the Spanish civil war, died, it now seems certain, on September 5 1936, shot by Francoist rebels on a hillside in Cerro Muriano near Cordoba.

His death might have gone unremarked, except that the image of that moment was celebrated for 40 years as one of the most famous war photographs of the 20th century. It was not Borrell’s name that was famous – his identity was established only relatively recently – but that of Robert Capa, whose reputation was made by the photograph. Then, in 1975, came the suggestion that Capa had faked the picture. Now new evidence suggests another, darker twist to the story and adds a new dimension to the complex ethics of reporting war.

The first doubts were raised by journalist Phillip Knightley, in his book on media and propaganda war, The First Casualty, in which he alleged that Capa had staged the scene for the camera. Knightley discovered that the picture had first been published in the French magazine, Vu. The caption, believed to have been written by Capa, described soldiers, “running down the slope. Suddenly their soaring was interrupted, a bullet whistled and their blood was drunk by their native soil.”

A year later, Life magazine republished it, captioned as the instant of a soldier’s death. Strangely, Capa had shot a picture of a second soldier, similar in appearance, falling on the identical spot; a third picture of a dead militiaman holding his rifle across his stomach corresponds to neither of the first two; and a group shot, in which Borrell is visible, is of a relaxed group posing for the camera. None of the other images suggested a battle was in progress, though the location is known to have been on the frontline.

Capa had been vague about what happened and Knightley had tried in vain to find all the negatives to examine the sequence of events. Capa was a great photographer but he was not averse to faking. In 1937 he fabricated footage for the March of Time newsreel series.

He told the Life photographer, Hansel Mieth, that the Borrell picture had been taken when the militiamen were fooling around, not in the heat of battle as had been believed. She added that Capa seemed upset and said little more except that it “haunted him badly”.

Since Borrell’s death on that day has been confirmed, the image appears to be that of the moment at which he was shot. But further evidence uncovered by the late curator of the Capa archive, Richard Wheelan – to be shown in a forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican in London – suggests another explanation for Capa’s unease.

All the negatives are lost, but the contact prints and Capa’s notebooks survive. Wheelan concluded that Capa and his girlfriend Gerda Taro had come across the group of militiamen taking a siesta at the foot of a slope. The siesta was respected by both sides in the war, and since no action was taking place, Capa persuaded the men to pose for a series of simulated scenes. The contact prints of the men pointing their guns over the side of a gully, and of the group cheerfully raising their rifles for the camera appear to confirm this.

The men then climbed a hill, turned and pointed their rifles again; then, in high spirits, ran back down the hill, Capa running beside them, taking pictures. Reaching the gully, they again aimed, and perhaps fired, their rifles. The evidence from other images suggests that the fatal photograph was taken near the edge of the gully. Significantly, a forensics expert consulted by Wheelan categorically asserts that Borrell was not running when he died. He “had been standing flat-footed when he was shot. He was clearly not in stride”.

Capa’s account, and the Vu caption, stated that the man had been shot as he ran down the hill. Why should Capa have lied? Perhaps for the same reason that he was so fortunately placed right next to Borrell, positioned to take the fatal photograph. If the militia had posed and fired for the camera, they would have attracted the attention of the rebel forces. As Borrell stood to pose for Capa, he was cut down by a rebel bullet.

Was the secret that so tortured Capa the knowledge that without his intervention, Borrell might not have been shot?

Ever since the camera went to war, photographers have staged scenes, rearranged bodies and had events re-enacted for the camera and we look at them in two states of mind – open to their impact as authentic images, and aware that to perceive the camera as a neutral observer is naive. Capa will always be regarded as a great photographer despite the known episodes of fakery, and many curators and critics regard this pre-digital age interrogation of the relationship between photographer and subject as irrelevant. What matters, they argue, is the impact of the image, not what they see as spurious questions of authenticity. But as the story of Capa’s iconic photograph shows, discredited images lose their impact. If the story is not what we are invited to believe, we are entitled to resist its effects. If Capa’s actions that day did contribute to the death of Borrell, the photograph is telling a radically different and shocking story. Truth and authenticity are not only artistic criteria. They are moral judgments too.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/27/photography.pressandpublishing

• This is War! Robert Capa at Work opens at the Barbican on October 17 isabel.hilton@guardian.co.uk

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Isabel Hilton ‘The Camera never lies’

Federico Borrell García, a young Republican militiaman in the Spanish civil war, died, it now seems certain, on September 5 1936, shot by Francoist rebels on a hillside in Cerro Muriano near Cordoba.

His death might have gone unremarked, except that the image of that moment was celebrated for 40 years as one of the most famous war photographs of the 20th century. It was not Borrell’s name that was famous – his identity was established only relatively recently – but that of Robert Capa, whose reputation was made by the photograph. Then, in 1975, came the suggestion that Capa had faked the picture. Now new evidence suggests another, darker twist to the story and adds a new dimension to the complex ethics of reporting war.

The first doubts were raised by journalist Phillip Knightley, in his book on media and propaganda war, The First Casualty, in which he alleged that Capa had staged the scene for the camera. Knightley discovered that the picture had first been published in the French magazine, Vu. The caption, believed to have been written by Capa, described soldiers, “running down the slope. Suddenly their soaring was interrupted, a bullet whistled and their blood was drunk by their native soil.”

A year later, Life magazine republished it, captioned as the instant of a soldier’s death. Strangely, Capa had shot a picture of a second soldier, similar in appearance, falling on the identical spot; a third picture of a dead militiaman holding his rifle across his stomach corresponds to neither of the first two; and a group shot, in which Borrell is visible, is of a relaxed group posing for the camera. None of the other images suggested a battle was in progress, though the location is known to have been on the frontline.

Capa had been vague about what happened and Knightley had tried in vain to find all the negatives to examine the sequence of events. Capa was a great photographer but he was not averse to faking. In 1937 he fabricated footage for the March of Time newsreel series.

He told the Life photographer, Hansel Mieth, that the Borrell picture had been taken when the militiamen were fooling around, not in the heat of battle as had been believed. She added that Capa seemed upset and said little more except that it “haunted him badly”.

Since Borrell’s death on that day has been confirmed, the image appears to be that of the moment at which he was shot. But further evidence uncovered by the late curator of the Capa archive, Richard Wheelan – to be shown in a forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican in London – suggests another explanation for Capa’s unease.

All the negatives are lost, but the contact prints and Capa’s notebooks survive. Wheelan concluded that Capa and his girlfriend Gerda Taro had come across the group of militiamen taking a siesta at the foot of a slope. The siesta was respected by both sides in the war, and since no action was taking place, Capa persuaded the men to pose for a series of simulated scenes. The contact prints of the men pointing their guns over the side of a gully, and of the group cheerfully raising their rifles for the camera appear to confirm this.

The men then climbed a hill, turned and pointed their rifles again; then, in high spirits, ran back down the hill, Capa running beside them, taking pictures. Reaching the gully, they again aimed, and perhaps fired, their rifles. The evidence from other images suggests that the fatal photograph was taken near the edge of the gully. Significantly, a forensics expert consulted by Wheelan categorically asserts that Borrell was not running when he died. He “had been standing flat-footed when he was shot. He was clearly not in stride”.

Capa’s account, and the Vu caption, stated that the man had been shot as he ran down the hill. Why should Capa have lied? Perhaps for the same reason that he was so fortunately placed right next to Borrell, positioned to take the fatal photograph. If the militia had posed and fired for the camera, they would have attracted the attention of the rebel forces. As Borrell stood to pose for Capa, he was cut down by a rebel bullet.

Was the secret that so tortured Capa the knowledge that without his intervention, Borrell might not have been shot?

Ever since the camera went to war, photographers have staged scenes, rearranged bodies and had events re-enacted for the camera and we look at them in two states of mind – open to their impact as authentic images, and aware that to perceive the camera as a neutral observer is naive. Capa will always be regarded as a great photographer despite the known episodes of fakery, and many curators and critics regard this pre-digital age interrogation of the relationship between photographer and subject as irrelevant. What matters, they argue, is the impact of the image, not what they see as spurious questions of authenticity. But as the story of Capa’s iconic photograph shows, discredited images lose their impact. If the story is not what we are invited to believe, we are entitled to resist its effects. If Capa’s actions that day did contribute to the death of Borrell, the photograph is telling a radically different and shocking story. Truth and authenticity are not only artistic criteria. They are moral judgments too.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/27/photography.pressandpublishing

• This is War! Robert Capa at Work opens at the Barbican on October 17 isabel.hilton@guardian.co.uk

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Book celebrates love of New Zealand’s native plants

New Zealanders talk about their love of native plants

Politicians, artists, academics, farmers, business people – growing numbers of New Zealanders are committed to a passionate love affair with native plants.
This collection of 44 personal narratives is sumptuously illustrated by photographs by John Maillard, who travelled from Invercargill to Auckland to bring to life contributors’ garden stories. Contributors include Peri Drysdale, Jeanette Fitzsimons, Tim Shadbolt, Steven Tindall, and a host of conservationists and gardeners esteemed in their locales.

A richly illustrated celebration of New Zealanders and their passion for native plants has been published by Canterbury University Press.

Living with Natives, edited by Professor Ian Spellerberg from Lincoln University and Napier-based environmental and planning consultant Michele Frey, is a collection of 44 moving and informative narratives by people of all ages and from all walks of life who talk about their love of, and experiences with, native plants.

“These are such wonderful and inspiring stories,” said Professor Spellerberg.

“Some will bring not only tears of joy but tears to your eyes because they are so personal and so moving. I dearly hope that all those who read this book will be inspired to make a place for native plants in their lives.”

Sumptuously illustrated with images taken by Christchurch-based photographer John Maillard, each garden story records the author’s successes and failures with native flora, many offering helpful tips to the reader.

Those telling their gardening tales include Untouched World founder Peri Drysdale, Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, children from Kimbolton School in the Manawatu, Coromandel potter Barry Brickell, Canterbury botanist Hugh Wilson, Black Cap Mathew Sinclair plus a host of conservationists and native plant enthusiasts from around the country.

Ms Frey, whose passion resides in ecological restoration, said finding out about the projects going on around the country had been so exciting and encouraging.

“The book has provided an opportunity to understand and celebrate the outstanding efforts being undertaken with native plants around the country.”

The book follows on from a previous publication Professor Spellerberg edited with the late botanist David Given, called Going Native (Canterbury University Press, 2004).

Living with Natives was published with the support of Resene Paints Ltd.

Author biographies:

Ian Spellerberg is a Professor of Nature Conservation and Director of the Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation at Lincoln University.
He has been involved in a number of native plant projects, including the recently established Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Project. He is president of the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network and Vice-President of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand.

Michele Frey is an environmental and recreation planning consultant in Napier. She is actively involved in a number of reserve restoration projects, and carries out parks and reserves planning for a range of public and private organisations.

Photographer John Maillard is the programme leader of Photography and Multimedia at CPIT in Christchurch. With over 20 years photographic experience in Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, his specialisation is in documenting landscapes and people.

Living with Natives, edited by Ian Spellerberg and Michele Frey, photographs by John Maillard, published by Canterbury University Press, August 2008, RRP NZ$39.95, Paperback with flaps, 210 x 240mm, 224pp, ISBN 978-1-877257-68-1.

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Cheviot Hills

Its been a while. The scanning back is almost ready,
I purchased a good 65mm f 4.5 Calter lens, as a gift to myself
for the print sales at Tony’s Two Rivers Gallery (thanks Tony).

I have had very little time to work on my images.

On Monday had a portrait request for Lady Diana Isaac so had an
opportunity to processes my other images at the same time.

This is the first of the next batch, its a real indication of the change of land use in Canterbury.
Those are cows not sheep and the sky reminds us were we are in
Canterbury.
I don’t think there is anywere else in the world that has clouds like this.