Thursday, 23 July 2009
Robert Capa's 'The Falling Soldier', the iconic image of the Spanish Civil War, has been condemned as a fake. Its provenance had always seemed dubious, but now a new study claims to provide definitive proof that Capa staged the 'shot' many miles from the battlefield.
The Independent's editorial asks the Sassoonish question, 'Does it matter?' Yes, is the answer: 'As a newspaper we adhere to the epiphet that "facts are sacred" --- even in, or especially in, this age of internet virtual reality.' Inevitably, though, self-appointed experts can be found who are prepared to say that it makes no difference whether we are seeing a soldier being killed or an actor performing.
Parvati Nair, Professor of Hispanic Cultural Studies at Queen Mary, confidently asserts in today's letters page of the Independent that 'The photograph does not offer veracity; it offers verisimilitude, the unreal appearance of a reality that is real.' As far as I can follow this blatant pitch for Pseuds Corner, it seems to suggest that propaganda and truth are the same thing, or at least that photo-journalists needn't concern themselves with pesky matters like 'veracity'.
Another of the newspaper's correspondents, John Manning, concurs: 'Even if there are doubts about the authenticity of this "classic image of war", its functional impact surely matters more than to insist that "facts" are "sacred".' Leaving aside the special pleading of 'surely', the scare quotes around 'facts'" tell you all you need to know about that particular propagandist. Who cares about the truth if the 'functional impact' has the desired effect?
It is an issue of ethical importance that a journalist reporting from a warzone should tell the truth. Capa claimed to be telling the truth, and his images achieved fame because he was believed. The evidence now points to the possibility that he lied. The images are cheapened --- trivialised --- as a consequence. The last word must go to Christopher Ricks, a voice of sanity scattering the defenders of the indefensible: 'Would the photograph really have effectively, affectively, the same symbolic implications if Capa had hired an actor for his shot?... We take the force of it because we take the photographer's word for it.'