No Pasaran! – Robert Capa and the Spanish Civil War
Published on 2 September 2007
An exhibition of Robert Capa’s photographs of the Spanish Civil War, commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the death of Julian Bell and the sixtieth anniversary of Magnum Photos.
This exhibition ran between 2nd September – 28th October 2007
On 17 July 1936 General Francisco Franco led a rebellion to overthrow Spain’s democratically-elected Popular Front Government, prompting more than two years of bloody civil conflict. With the involvement of Hitler and Mussolini, the war gained further international and symbolic significance, as a struggle rooted in Spain’s convoluted political history was transformed into the next stage in the development of European Fascism.
Following the attempted coup, hundreds of international volunteers descended on Spain to join the Republican resistance. These were primarily workers, keen to join a popular struggle they saw as intrinsically tied to their own. They were joined by an unprecedented number of left wing writers and intellectuals, eager to face the impending Fascist threat head on.As the poet W. H. Auden put it in an emphatic call to authors: ‘the equivocal attitude, the Ivory Tower, the paradoxical, the ironic detachment, will no longer do…now, as certainly never before, we are determined or compelled, to take sides.’
Among the volunteers was the poet Julian Bell, son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, who went to Spain as an ambulance driver before losing his life in 1937 during the Battle of Brunete. Bell died just nine days before the photographer Gerda Taro, Robert Capa’s lover, lost her life whilst photographing the same battle.
Capa and Taro documented many facets of the war, risking their lives on the front line to inform a larger public about the realities of the conflict. In the process, they redefined the role of the war photographer from one of detached onlooker to that of participant observer. As Capa’s brother Cornell observed, ‘their weapons were their cameras, which they used to win international support for the Republican cause.’
Capa’s photographs presented in this exhibition offer a celebratory glimpse at Spain’s Republican resistance. Displaying moments of profound warmth, sorrow and intimacy, his pictures reveal a deep-felt concern for the human relationships and experiences that underpinned the conflict.
Alongside these empathetic portraits, Capa’s photographs reveal the devastation of modern warfare – the ruined buildings, injured soldiers and fleeing refugees. Together these images amount to a poignant reminder of the human and physical consequences of this cruel and bloody war.