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Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Civil War

Spain — A Look Back

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Here on Iconic Photos, we have seen many photos taken in modern Spain. The country loomed large in the twentieth century mythos and imagination — starting with a disastrous Civil War that drew in many public intellectuals of the day and now seen as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War.

In the 1930s, Catalonia attempted two declarations of autonomy, claiming itself a state within a federal structure. This, along with rising socialism, communism, and anarchism,  gave cause to the rightwing reactionaries and finally an all-out Civil War. As it took place as picture magazines are getting popular, the Spanish Civil War was covered by photojournalists and yellow journalists alike. The most famous images of the war were by Robert Capa and by Dora Maar, of her lover Picasso painting Guernica.

Post-civil war Spain was a hodgepodge of repressions and idiosyncrasies. The Castilian Spanish was declared the sole official language, with all foreign films (and films originally made in local regional tongues) were force-dubbed. Castilian names were the only ones allowed. Even the names of football clubs were changed into Castilian versions.

Deference to the Catholic Church was extreme; after all, Franco had ruled Spain as “Caudillo by the grace of God” as his coins proclaimed. civil marriage and divorce were made illegal and the Church was given power to censor any writing or speech it objected. Cleavages and legs in photos were covered up, James Bond novels lost its sex scenes, and over 4,000 songs were banned, mostly for hilarious reasons. The country’s main scientific body, CSIC, was left in the hands of Opus Dei. The leading primary school history textbook, Yo soy español opened with the retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden.

The Generalissimo himself was an odd patriarch in a medieval mold. A mummified right arm of St Teresa of Avila always traveled with him. The state media mentioned him in the same veneration as Augustus Caesar or Napoleon, and many towns changed or added to their names ‘Franco’. He embraced a Austrian con-man who insisted that petrol could be made from water and a secret herbal extract, and strove for years to ban the tomato-pelting festival in Valencia.

On his ugly deathbed, Franco was already an anachronism, but his rule was widely seen as the sole unifier of the fissiporous Spanish nation. The experts worried that old hatreds and new violence would flare up. (Indeed in the elections of 1977, Spain voted along socio-geographical lines almost identical to the elections of 1936). The improbable transition was completed by two figures: King Juan Carlos — Franco’s designated successor and Adolfo Suárez. Four months after Franco’s death, the king signaled that the old order was ending by speaking banned Catalan language. He also engineered centrist Suárez to become Prime Minister. Suárez, Franco’s director-general of state broadcasting, succeeded in ridding the government of the last members of the old regime and forcing through a democratic constitution.

It is this constitution, confirmed in a second referendum in December 1978, that is now in question as the Catalans move towards independence. Under it, the powers of the Church were rolled back: there was to be no official religion, although Catholicism was acknowledged as a ‘social fact’, and rights of autonomy were granted for the country’s historic regions, but under a proviso in the Article II, which outlined “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, common and indivisible patria of all Spaniards.”

It was an exceedingly delicate and dangerous operation, for the threat of a new civil war loomed throughout. A series of bloody bombings by the Basque separatists marred the transition. Economic malaise was high and with Catalonia, the Basque region, Galicia and Andalucia all seeking separatism,  Suárez — now on his fifth coalition government — was pushed out by his own party in January 1981.

The next month, as the national assembly, or Cortes, convened to appoint Suárez’s successor, a Civil Guard colonel staged a coup attempt. Another general requested the king to dissolve the Cortes and install a military government. Juan Carlos, who had been carefully maneuvered to play a modest role within the Francoist dictatorship, firmly stood his ground and refused. The coup petered out, giving the Cortes an opportunity to cut the military budget and pass a bill legalizing divorce.

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Suárez made a duke and a Grandee of Spain; in 2008 when Juan Carlos visited Suárez to invest him with the highest honor of the Spanish monarchy, the Order of the Golden Fleece, Suárez was already amidst Alzheimer’s disease. He could no longer remember that he had been prime minister. A poignant photo of Suárez with the king’s arm wrapped around him, taken by his son Adolfo Suárez Illana, was reproduced in all Spanish media and later awarded the paper El País‘s Ortega y Gasset Award. The photo had been an idea floated by singer Julio Iglesias to Illana, who passed it on to the king. The palace proposed to send a photographer, but Illana declined, taking it himself.

On Suárez’s death in 2014, the Economist wrote, “the burly king with his arm round the shoulder of his diminutive first prime minister, in shirtsleeves. The two men were walking away from the camera as if to say, job done. As indeed it was.” Their work is now being transformed by Catalonia’s move towards independence. Catalonia, which contains a fifth of Spain’s economy and a quarter of its exports, has strong economic reasons for going it alone (and legitimate historical reasons), but recent weeks have shown that it risks awaking Spain’s past demons.

 

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Seville | Henri Cartier-Bresson

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In 1932, Henri Cartier-Bresson set out on a tour of Southern Europe and the Maghreb; this journey with his 35 mm Leica was to be his formative tour that set out the rules of the art for not only the 25-year old photographer but also for a century of photojournalists who followed him.

In Seville in 1933, he took the photo above, later entitled, “Children Playing in Ruins”. Cartier-Bresson was always pithy in descriptions and it was not entirely clear where exactly in the city he took the photo, or how the ruins come to be. His contact sheets reveal that he chose the photos which were among the first he made on that occasion.

There is not much to write about this photo. His usual journalistic eye was at work, depicting youthful vigor sprouting out of decayed detritus. However, soon afterwards, the Spanish Civil War broke out, affecting many cities Cartier-Bresson passed through. Seville was where the first shots were fired, and the photo — with its ruined buildings and crippled children — became associated with the horrors of that war, even though it was made three years earlier.

Andre Breton, the surrealist who was among the first to use photographs in his books, used the photo to illustrate his chapter on the Spanish Civil War as early as 1937 in Mad Love. Many others followed, and even this author believed this was made in the aftermath of the war, not before it.   

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 30, 2013 at 6:58 am

The Photo of an Unknown War

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The blog likes to note there is often no truth in photography. What better photo to illustrate this point that this one used in propaganda by both Communists and Fascists, and in two wars a decade apart. 

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In the late 1970s, as the gerontocractic fascism of Francisco Franco drew to a close, historians revisited his arrival onto the world stage during the Spanish Civil War, now viewed in retrospect as the Dress Rehearsal for the Second World War. They pointed out the above photo as an evidence of atrocities committed by Franco’s troops on their prisoners of war during the Civil War, an eerie precursor of Fascist crimes to come.

Throughout the Civil War, both sides exploited the power of news media and newly-popular photography, at times using the same photographs. Back in 1938, the above photo was used by the Falange – the Spanish Fascists – to denounce the barbarous nature of the Spanish Republicans. In Corriere della Sera (which toed Mussolini’s line after the removal of its editor Luigi Albertini), it was labelled as the communist International Brigaders holding the heads of Spainish patriots.

The photo, which does look like a poor Photoshop attempt, is often attributed to David Seymour, the future co-founder of Magnum who made his name during the Spanish Civil War. It was not clear who actually took it and it was not even clear when it was taken. In 1938, when L’Humanité, an organ of the French Communist Party, saw the photo, it used it to denounce the French colonial empire in North Africa.

In that aspect, L’Humanité was closer to the truth (but perhaps accidentally). The photo was perhaps taken during the Rif War (1921-1927), when Spanish and French Foreign Legions brutally put down a Berber rebellion in Morroco led by Emir Abd-El-Krim.

The photo first appeared fittingly in Memoires d’Abd-el-Krim, a book whose pedigree was also in doubt. Jacques Roger-Mathieu claimed that the book was dictated to him by Abd-el-Krim onboard the vessel Abda which was to transport the defeated emir to his exile on the island of Réunion. Although, it appeared with a grand subtitle of “la confession ou les confidences”, many now doubt the book’s authenticity, noting it was filled with “absurdities of all sorts, lies, and anachronisms”. As per Roger-Mathieu, the photo depicted Spanish Legionaires with the heads of Rif fighters.

Follow me here @aalholmes.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 18, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Assault Guards in Diputacio Street, Barcelona

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Agusti Centelle (1909-1985) was considered one of the foremost photojournalist during the Spanish Civil War. Called “Spanish Robert Capa”, he was one of the great image-makers of the Republican resistance during the war. Originally working in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, He exiled himself over the Pyrenees to the Bram refugee camp when his side lost. There in Bram, under extremely difficult conditions, he continued to photograph. When he returned into Spain, he hid several thousand negatives to protect the identities of the revolutionaries from Franco. Only forty years later after Franco died, Centelles returned to France and reclaimed many of his negatives.

His most iconic photo was shown above. Taken in Barcelona on 19 July 1936, it shows the republican forces barricading behind the dead horses. Like Picasso’s anguished horse in Guernica, dead horses and soon-to-be-dead revolutionaries showed the chaos, violence, conflict and suffering unleashed by the civil war. The photo was titled, “Assault Guards in Diputacio Street. Barcelona”. Like Capa’s Loyalist Militiaman, the photo has long be accused of being staged. An exhibition at Centro Cultural Conde Duque in February 2008 confirmed that suspicion by showing the contact strip from which the final work was taken. The image was indeed the best composed and the most convincing of the entire photo-op.

See his other photos here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Politics, War

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