INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Mexican Suitcase

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  • The Mexican Suitcase: The Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives of Capa, Chim, and Taro
    International Center of Photography, New York
    Steidl Publishers, Germany
    2010
  • [Catalog Sleeve Text] “Lost since 1939, the Mexican Suitcase contains nearly 4,500 negatives documenting the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Chim (David Seymour), and Gerda Taro. These films had traveled from Paris via the south of France to Mexico City, where, almost seventy years later, they were recovered and now reside in the collection of the International Center of Photography. This material not only provides a uniquely rich and panoramic view of the war, a conflict that changed the course of European history, but also demonstrates how the work of these legendary photographers laid the foundation for modern war photography. Published throughout the international press, their innovative and passionate coverage of the war was both engaged and partisan. While overtly supporting the antifascist Republican cause, their dramatic photographs vividly recorded battle sequences as well as the harrowing effects of war on civilians. Equally compelling are the stories of the photographers themselves as revealed through their images: the dashing Capa, the studious Chim, and the intrepid Taro, who died tragically in 1937 during the Battle of Brunete. This is the history of three young people and the ties — personal, political, artistic — that bound them.”

    Cataloging the 165 recently discovered rolls of negative film was a massive undertaking for the curators, preservationists and historians at the ICP. Not only was the material physically delicate, but the film's contents and its importance to the ICP was immeasurably sensitive. Robert Capa’s brother Cornell was the ICP’s founder, and this body of work was the cornerstone of Capa’s career as a photojournalist.

    The Mexican Suitcase would be the debut of this material to the public as a complete archive, and the catalog as permanent record would be at least as important as the exhibition itself.

    Developing the structure for the book that would show off each of the film’s frames as well as the flow of the narrative within each roll was a complicated task. I had to balance between making the book unwieldy and expensive versus reproducing the frames too small to make their details intelligible.

    Through many tests, strategies, and cost estimates, we came to the final two-volume 600 page document as the best way to get the material into the hands of all who wanted to make it a part of their library. The volumes are divided into a first book which contextualizes the film and provides background and analysis, and a second book which houses the complete collection of frames along with shorter essays pertaining to specific rolls.