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Gerda Taro didn’t just help invent one of the world’s most famous photographers. Briefly, she was him.


What It Means to Be a Photographer

The year is 1936. On the outskirts of Barcelona, a small plane crash-lands. Miraculously, everyone on board survives, including two photographers, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. They were risking their lives to cover the Spanish Civil War that had broken out months prior. Capa would take one of the most famous war photos in history. Taro would become the first female photographer to die in conflict — and be largely forgotten.

But it’s really a story about two identities so intertwined that it’s hard to keep them apart; difficult to know who’s who, who did what, and what it means to be a photographer.

Of course you’ve seen the following picture before. A man with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. He’s dropping his rifle, his body falling down as a fatal bullet fatally strikes: The Falling Soldier.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row el_class=”no-margin”][vc_column][image_carousel_alternative images=”307,306,304,303,302,301″ onclick=”lightbox” items=”1″ items_on_small_screens=”3″ navigation=”1″ slide_by=”by_page” navigation_style=”2″ slide_number_status=”1″ style=”1″ fade=”1″ lazyload=”1″ img_size=”large” css_class=”dark”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row el_class=”no-margin”][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s the most iconic picture of those taken by Robert Capa and Gerda Taro during the civil war. The man in the picture was part of a militia defending the Spanish Republic against the fascist uprising led by general Francisco Franco. It was a war the Republic ultimately lost, a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and led to 36 years of fascist dictatorship in Spain.

“When I came back from the war, I was suddenly a famous photographer,” Robert Capa later said. And no wonder: the picture was highly symbolic.

The Matter Was Personal

The man in the picture was fighting with a simple rifle against troops equipped with machine guns. Capa later said the militiamen he photographed were “mowed down”. In a single shot, the picture captures the entire tragedy and horror of the war .

It shows death unfold, something that had rarely been captured in a photograph until then. Previously, photographers would take their pictures before or after a battle, but Capa and Taro got right in on the action. They embedded with the fighters and ran through gunfire to get their photos. This was radical, unheard of, and arguably somewhat crazy. But for them, the matter was personal.

Robert Capa and Gerda Taro both had Jewish roots. Both had lived in Germany in the 1920s and 30s where they witnessed the rise of the Nazi party. Both had suffered antisemitism and it forced them to leave Germany and move to France shortly after Hitler came to power.

The two were part of a massive exodus from Germany. He was a young photographer originally from Hungary, and she made pictures and worked for an image agency. Their circle of friends was heavily left-leaning — communists, socialists, the odd anarchist. These were volatile times after all, and being in opposition to the injustices at home also meant being sympathetic with left-wing ideologies in far flung countries. The Spanish Civil War became the battleground for ideologists on both sides of the fence.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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