International Center of Photography (New York, NY)

Capra-129.jpg

          Black and white photograph of two men sitting in a rocky gully, one writing a letter, the other looking on

Robert Capa [Republican soldier writing a letter, Rio Segre, Aragón front, near Fraga, Spain], November 7, 1938 © Estate of Cornell Capa/International Center of Photography

When legendary photojournalist Robert Capa fled Paris in 1939, in advance of the occupying German army, three boxes containing 126 rolls of film shot by Capa and fellow photographers (and legends) Gerda Taro and David Seymour (known as "Chim") inexplicably disappeared. Known as "The Mexican Suitcase," the more than 4,000 negatives---which document the Spanish Civil War---surfaced nearly 56 years later in Mexico City among the personal effects of a general who had been the Mexican ambassador to the government of occupied France. The historic trove is now part of the collection at the International Center of Photography (ICP), which, in fact, was founded by Capa's brother Cornell in 1974 to honor the memory of his brother and other fallen war photographers. With a collection of more than 160,000 images spanning the 19th-21st centuries, ICP is the only museum of photography in the U.S. that also operates an internationally recognized school of photography.  For FY 10 ICP has received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $150,000 to develop The Mexican Suitcase, a traveling exhibition of approximately 200 prints from the never-before-seen negatives. The project also comprises an interactive public website and publication that will include reproductions of all 4,500 negatives.

In addition to photographs by Capa, Chim, and Taro, The Mexican Suitcase exhibition also will include materials that contextualize the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, and the working relationship of the three photographers. Possible stops for the exhibit may include Washington, DC; Milan, Italy; and Barcelona, Spain. The interactive website, which can be viewed in English, Spanish, and Catalan, includes biographies of the photographers, a detailed accounting of the discovery of the negatives, and links to prior exhibits on the three artists, among other content. ICP plans to add digitized images from The Mexican Suitcase to the site as they become available.

ICP Ehrenkranz Director Willis E. Hartshornm reflected on the importance of The Mexican Suitcase, "Recognizing the social, political, and artistic importance of photojournalism has always been incorporated into ICP's vision. The grant from the NEA will allow us to make the collection's images and information, unseen for decades, publicly accessible, contributing to the scholarship on some of the most important documentary photographers of the twentieth century. The presentation of the images should add to the visual heritage of the Spanish Civil War, thereby encouraging discussions regarding war and public memory."

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