This film (2011) tells the story of the impact of the recovery of three boxes of photographs, the ‘Mexican Suitcase’ of the title, that had been lost during WWII and only reappeared in 2007.

The boxes contained negatives of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), as taken by the war photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour.

The negatives are fascinating, and essential, because of the amazing story of war that they reveal, at the frontline and with the immediacy and urgency and authenticity that photographers who were actually there at the moment of action could witness and share. Thus, the images allow us, today, to gain an unique insight into war, with all its attendant brutality and destruction and tragedy.

I had not realised that the Spanish Civil War is one of the most unspoken events in the nation’s history. It is shrouded in silence, or has been until relatively recently, and few who lived through it have chosen to speak publicly. This culture is changing, as younger generations begin to question and to demand answers on their national inheritance – one commented that the Spanish Civil War, of which he personally played no part being born many years later, was the single greatest influence on his life and upbringing.

Photographs play a unique role in both our personal and national archives. They serve to corroborate the truth of the existence of place, and of people. For many of those who died during the Spanish Civil War – over half a million people in total – no bodies have been found, and relatives, reminiscent of Pinochet’s legacy as depicted in Nostalgia for the Light, continue to search for their remains. In the meantime, the only tangible legacy they have are photographs, and the contents of the ‘Mexican Suitcase’ significantly contributes to the reality of their remembering.

All three photographers, Capa, Taro and Seymour, died during combat. Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War, and the other two later, in the 1950s. It is now extraordinary to see the extent to which all three were involved in frontline action, willingly risking their lives for representations of the reality of war.

And thus, long after the event, we can witness, as we should, the horror of it all.

CQ

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