The Falling Soldier

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Original title Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936

The Falling Soldier is a photograph taken by Robert Capa. It was understood to have been taken on September 5, 1936, and was long thought to depict the death of a Republican, specifically an Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL) soldier during the Spanish Civil War. He was later identified as the anarchist militiaman Federico Borrell García. The full title of the photograph is Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936.

There had been Falangist allegations from the beginning that the picture was staged, but outside Spain, the picture was believed to be a true documentary image until the 1970s.[1] However, recent research suggests that the picture was staged. It was definitely not taken at the battle site of Cerro Muriano, but at Espejo, some thirty miles away.[2] Doubt has also been cast on the identification of the photograph's subject: Federico Borrell García is known to have been killed at Cerro Muriano, shot while sheltered behind a tree, and he did not greatly resemble the subject of the photograph.[3] However, a recording of Capa himself describing precisely how he took the photograph was released by Magnum agency, and can be heard in a radio interview.[4]


Statue by Yigal Tumarkin in Netanya after Robert Capa "The Falling Soldier"

The Falling Soldier appears to capture a Republican soldier at the very moment of death, as he is shown collapsing backwards after being fatally shot in the head, with his rifle slipping out of his right hand. The pictured soldier is dressed in civilian clothing but is wearing a leather cartridge belt. Photographs taken earlier in the day appear to show the photographed militiaman alongside his comrades in the Columna Alcoiana, waving guns and greeting the photographer.[citation needed]

Capa's photographs of the Loyalist militia at Cerro Muriano, including two pictures showing dead militiamen, were first published in the September 23, 1936 issue of the French magazine VU, and images taken at the same location were also published a day later in the magazine Regards. In the United States, The Falling Soldier was first reproduced in Life. It has become a symbol of the Spanish Civil War and is considered to be one of the most famous war photographs of the twentieth century.[citation needed]


While some authors, including Capa's biographer, Richard Whelan, always defended the photograph's authenticity,[5] since 1975, doubts have been raised.[6] The 2007 documentary La sombra del iceberg claims that the picture was staged and that Borrell is not the individual in the picture.[7]

In his 2009 book, Sombras de la Fotografía ("Shadows of Photography"), José Manuel Susperregui of the University of País Vasco concluded that the photograph had not been taken at Cerro Muriano but at another location about 35 mi (56 km) away. Susperregui determined the actual location of the photograph by examining the backgrounds of other photographs from the same sequence as the Falling Soldier, in which a range of mountains can be seen. He then e-mailed images to librarians and historians in towns near Córdoba, asking if they recognized the landscape, and received a positive response from a community called Espejo.

Since Espejo had been at some distance from the battle lines when Capa was there, Susperregui said that this meant that the Falling Soldier photograph was staged, as were all the others in the same series, supposedly taken on the front.[8]

Spanish newspapers, including the Barcelona newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya[9] sent reporters to Espejo who returned with photographs, showing an almost perfect match between the present day skyline and the background of Capa's photographs.

Willis E. Hartshorn, director of the International Center of Photography, asserted the photograph's veracity, suggesting that the militiaman had been killed by a sniper firing from a distance while posing for a staged photograph. Susperregui dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the front lines were too widely separated and that there was no documentary evidence about the employment of snipers on the Córdoba front.

Susperregui pointed out other contradictions in the accepted account of the photograph in his book, noting that Capa mentioned in interviews that the militiaman had been killed by a burst of machine-gun fire rather than a sniper's bullet, and also that he gave very different accounts of the vantage point and technique he used to obtain the photograph.[10]

In a way, these findings also exonerate Capa. Before the latest findings on the topic, some writers had even suggested that Capa might have been responsible for the militiaman's death, as the militiaman appeared to be posing for Capa when he was shot – possibly by a sniper.[11]

Richard Whelan, in This Is War! Robert Capa at Work, states:

The image, known as Death of a Loyalist militiaman or simply The Falling Soldier, has become almost universally recognized as one of the greatest war photographs ever made. The photograph has also generated a great deal of controversy. In recent years, it has been alleged that Capa staged the scene, a charge that has forced me to undertake a fantastic amount of research over the course of two decades. (Nota 3) I have wrestled with the dilemma of how to deal with a photograph that one believes to be genuine but that one cannot know with absolute certainty to be a truthful documentation. It is neither a photograph of a man pretending to have been shot, nor an image made during what we would normally consider the heat of battle.

—Richard Whelan in "This Is War! Robert Capa at work".

Further materials, old films containing images by Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour, came to light in early 2009, when a lost 'suitcase', containing hundreds of Capa's negatives was unearthed, having been taken to Mexico at the end of the war. These films are now with the Capa archives at the International Center of Photography in New York. The 'suitcase' is actually three cardboard boxes of negatives.[12]

Hope of finding the missing negative of Capa's most famous picture was soon dashed, but the travelling exhibition of hundreds of images that toured major art galleries in 2008, showed pictures taken at the same location and at the same time. A detailed analysis of the landscape in the series of pictures taken with that of the falling soldier, has proven that the action (whether genuine or staged) took place near Espejo.[13]

Many of the images in this show were clearly staged and posed, including many famous images by both Capa and Taro from the Spanish civil war.[14] The Falling Soldier is part of a broken series of images and in the exhibition, the fifth in a sequence of seven shots. Other images from the sequence are missing. Images six and seven are of a second 'falling' soldier, who is not the famous man of shot number five.


  1. ^ Jamieson, Alastair (September 21, 2008). "Robert Capa 'faked' war photo new evidence produced". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-07-26. "Looking at the photos it is clear that it is not the heat of battle. It is likely the soldiers were carrying out an exercise either for Capa or themselves." 
  2. ^ "What Spain Sees in Robert Capa's Civil War Photo". Time magazine. July 25, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-26. "While the new findings clearly establish where the famous shot was taken, not everyone believes they suggest it was a fraud. "The evidence certainly changes the photograph's location from Cerro Muriano to Espejo — there's no longer any question about that," says Cynthia Young, a curator at the International Center of Photography in charge of the Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive and one of the exhibition's organizers, who goes on to add, "But I don't see how one goes from 'new location' to 'fake photo' — it's a lot more complicated than that. Capa never said the photo was taken at Cerra Muriano — not once, not anywhere."" 
  3. ^ Faber, Sebastiaan (17 March 2010). "Truth in the Making: The Never-Ending Saga of Capa’s Falling Soldier". The Volunteer. 
  4. ^ Capa on the photograph
  5. ^ Whelan, Richard (2002). Proving that Robert Capa's "Falling Soldier" is genuine: A detective story, American Masters.
  6. ^ Knightley, Phillip (1975). The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam; The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker. New York: Harcourt, Brace
  7. ^ "Autopsia al miliciano de Robert Capa". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  8. ^ Susperregui, José Manuel (2008). Sombras de la Fotografía: Los Enigmas Desvelados de Nicolasa Ugartemendia, Muerte de un Miliciano, la Aldea Española, el Lute. Universidad del Pais Vasco. ISBN 978-84-9860-230-2. 
  9. ^ "The Raw Story | Iconic Capa war photo was staged: newspaper". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  10. ^ Rohter, Larry (17 August 2009). "New Doubts Raised Over Famous War Photo". New York Times. 
  11. ^ Isabel Hilton (September 27, 2008). "The camera never lies. But photographers can and do". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-07-26. "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". ... As Borrell stood to pose for Capa, he was cut down by a rebel bullet." 
  12. ^ "The Capa Cache". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  13. ^ "This Is War! Robert Capa at Work : Gerda Taro : On the Subject of War". Barbican. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  14. ^ "Robert Capa’s Falling soldier – does the evidence stack up? | Ethical Martini". 2008-11-01. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 

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