More on Capa – Fraud

I’d not watched the Time video Behind the Photo in which LIFE picture editor John G. Morris talks through what happened when Capa’s 4 cassettes of 35mm film arrived at the offices in London’s Dean Street. Parts of A D Coleman‘s series of posts were based on the ‘ruined negatives’ that are displayed in that video as Morris talks.

I’d not looked at the ‘ruined negatives (stills of which which were reproduced in Coleman’s articles) closely, but photographer Rob McElroy did, and he noticed something very strange. What are presented as contact prints from the ruined negatives are clearly identical to the good negatives except that the image area has been whited out and the frame numbers removed. Simply a rather poor piece of Photoshop. Given that they have identical scratches and marks there can be no doubt that this is a crude forgery, and represents a clear attempt to deceive the viewer. You can read McElroy’s guest post on Photocritic International and the images in it are absolutely convincing.

On the video itself Morris actually gives a very clear description of the films, despite sticking to the fiction about them melting in the drying cabinet, when he says he “held up the rolls one at a time, and there was nothing on the first three rolls, but on the fourth roll there were 11 frames that had images…

There was ‘nothing’ on the first three rolls. In other words they were just clear film. Greatly underexposed. Nothing to melt, nothing to be lost in the drying cabinet. Capa had underexposed the film that he took before the actual landing so badly that nothing was recorded. The contact prints from the actual negatives would have been black and not white. And of course the totally blank films were thrown away.

When Capa stood on the landing craft watching the soldiers making their way to the beach that there was enough light to record on the film, and when he was on the beach. Those were the frames that could be printed – and the only frames that he took of the actual landing.

In Part 8 of his series, Coleman accuses Adrian Kelterborn of Magnum Photos, in collusion with Cynthia Young of the International Center of Photography and Mia Tramz of TIME of deliberately concocting a fraud in “blatant violation of professional ethics in the field of photojournalism, as articulated in the Code of Ethics of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)” and he posts a copy of his letter of complaint to Sean D. Elliott of the NPPA’s Ethics Committee  urging an investigation of the matter. And as he says, surely John Morris must have seen and approved the final version of the video and thus share responsibility for the deception.

3 Responses to “More on Capa – Fraud”

  1. JRossBaughman says:

    Morris uses other adjectives to describes the “ruined” film, most often saying that it was all like “pea soup.” That suggests something like opaque fog, so uniformly gray and flat as to have no image. Of course the term “fog” in photography most usually means a leak of light, but it can also refer to ruinous fog caused by chemical contamination. Until Rob McElroy offered his insight and analysis, we tried to make sense of the fake “ruined” film that Magnum and TIME put into their recent video “Behind the Picture.” In dozens of re-tellings I have heard from Morris personally over the last 35 years, and watched carefully on videos listed by A.D. Coleman, Morris has never used any term to describe underexposure, or that the film had been stripped to clear acetate strips. It’s still a mystery, and deserving of more detective work.

  2. Thanks for your insight and information on this.

    By nothing on them I assumed he meant no image rather than no gelatin. When wet they might look a little cloudy rather than clear, and its also entirely possible that in the rush to see the images they had not been adequately fixed. But ‘pea soup’ sounds like more of the fiction, a bit of very appropriate London fog.

    If drastically overexposed he would have seen black frames. Fogging would also result in development to produce black silver. You wouldn’t describe either as ‘pea soup’. If there was nothing visible “nothing on the first three rolls” surely they were either not exposed at all or drastically underexposed.

  3. Of course there are also other things that could have gone wrong in the LIFE darkroom. If the film was very greatly underexposed they would probably have intensified it. I used to use Uranium intensifier which is rather unpredictable, and can ruin film if used without proper washing to remove the hypo.

    If the film was greatly overexposed they would have used a ‘reducer’ and again mistakes could happen. So although I can’t believe the film was ruined by overcooking during drying, it could still have been ruined by a processing error.

    But it does seem rather unlikely it would have been given to a young darkroom lad to process if they thought there was a chance it had anything of great value on it.

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