The Mexican valise

A surprising cache of lost photos by masters including Robert Capa brings back the Spanish Civil War.

 

He was suddenly a child again. The same child who’d endured hunger and poverty. He’d slipped back to the time of the Civil War, after General Francisco Franco’s coup against the Second Spanish Republic in 1936. He felt danger as he had when running for cover during the civilian bombings. But it was 2008 and the war had ended 70 years earlier.

Seeing his photograph on the cover of the magazine, El Periódico de Catalunya, Xavier Camps had a flashback. Now in his 90’s, Xavier is one of the few remaining survivors of that war. His voice quivers when he thinks back on those sad times. But when photographer Robert Capa had taken that shot of him atop the wreckage of the German bomber, that was a time for celebration. “Seeing an enemy plane shot down gave us a bit of hope”, Camps recalls. But his triumph was short lived. Two weeks later the republicans had been defeated and the city had fallen into the hands of Franco’s nationalists.

The photo is just one of many images of the Spanish Civil War found in the ‘Mexican Valise’, three boxes discovered in Mexico containing 4,500 negatives shot by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour (known as Chim), three pioneering war photographers. How these images came to light is a remarkable story.

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