The Falling Soldier

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

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

The Falling Soldier appears to capture a Republican soldier at the very moment of death. The soldier is shown collapsing backward after being fatally shot in 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.

Following its publication, the photograph was acclaimed as one of the greatest ever taken, but since the 1970s, there have been significant doubts about its authenticity due to its location, the identity of its subject, and the discovery of staged photographs taken at the same time and place.


Upon publication of the photograph, there were allegations from the Falange, an extreme nationalist political group in Spain, that the photograph was staged. However, outside of Spain, it was believed to be a legitimate documentary photograph until the 1970s.[1]

In response to the debate, recent research suggests the photograph was staged. The photographer claimed the photograph was taken at the battle site of Cerro Muriano, but research proves it was taken in the town of Espejo, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.[2] There is also doubt about the identification of the photograph's subject. It was believed that Frederico Borrell García was the subject, but he was actually killed at Cerro Muriano, and was shot while sheltered behind a tree. In addition to a lack of clarity of the location of the photograph, Frederico Borrell García did not greatly resemble the subject of the photograph.[3]

Authenticity debate[edit]

While some individuals, including one of Capa's biographers, Richard Whelan, have defended the photograph's authenticity,[4] doubts have been raised since 1975.[5] A 2007 documentary, La sombra del iceberg, claims that the picture was staged and that Frederico Borrell García is not the individual in the picture.[6]

In José Manuel Susperregui's 2009 book Sombras de la Fotografía ("Shadows of Photography"), he concludes that the photograph was not taken at Cerro Muriano, but at another location about 30 miles (48 km) away. Susperregui determined the location of the photograph by examining the background 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 the Spanish town of Espejo.

Because Espejo was miles away from the battle lines when Capa was there, Susperregui said this meant that the Falling Soldier photograph was staged, as were all the others in the same series, supposedly taken on the front.[7]

Susperregui also pointed out more contradictions in the accepted account of the photograph, 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. Capa also gave different accounts of the vantage point and technique he used to obtain the photograph.[8]

Spanish newspapers, including a newspaper from Barcelona, El Periódico de Catalunya,[9] sent reporters to Espejo to verify the location of the photograph. The reporters returned with photographs showing a close match between the present day skyline and the background of Capa's photographs.

Willis E. Hartshorn, director of the International Center of Photography, argued against the claims that the photograph was staged. He suggested that the soldier in the photograph had been killed by a sniper firing from a distance while posing for the staged photograph. Susperregui dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the front lines were too widely separated and that there was no documentary evidence for the use of snipers on the Córdoba front.

Before the latest findings on the topic, some writers suggested that Capa might have been responsible for the militiaman's death because the militiaman appeared to be posing for Capa when he was shot, possibly by a sniper.

"The Mexican Suitcase"[edit]

Photographs by Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour, came to light in early 2009, when three cardboard boxes of negatives, also known as the "Mexican Suitcase", were unearthed. The 'suitcase' contained hundreds of Capa's negatives. These films were taken to Mexico at the end of the war. They are now with the Capa archives at the International Center of Photography in New York.[10]

However, there was no negative of Capa's Falling Soldier. Despite the lack of a negative, 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.[11]

Many of the photographs in this show were clearly staged and posed, including many famous photographs by both Capa and Taro from the Spanish civil war.[12] The Falling Soldier is part of a broken series of photographs, and, in the exhibition, the fifth in a sequence of seven shots. Other photographs from the sequence are missing. Photographs six and seven are of a second falling soldier, who is not the famous man of shot number five.

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.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Whelan, Richard (2002). Proving that Robert Capa's "Falling Soldier" is genuine: A detective story, American Masters.
  5. ^ Knightley, Phillip (1975). The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam; The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker. New York: Harcourt, Brace
  6. ^ "Autopsia al miliciano de Robert Capa". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Rohter, Larry (17 August 2009). "New Doubts Raised Over Famous War Photo". New York Times. 
  9. ^ "The Raw Story | Iconic Capa war photo was staged: newspaper". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  10. ^ "The Capa Cache". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  11. ^ "This Is War! Robert Capa at Work : Gerda Taro : On the Subject of War". Barbican. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  12. ^ "Robert Capa’s Falling soldier – does the evidence stack up? | Ethical Martini". 2008-11-01. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 

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