Yesterday April 1, 2017 José Manuel Serrano Esparza delivered at the Vimcorsa Exhibition Hall in Córdoba the lecture titled Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936: The Leica II (Model D) Photographs the Fear of Death. Harange at the Finca de Villa Alicia and Flight of the Refugees from the Village. Birth of the Modern War Photojournalism, within the XV International Photography Biennal of Córdoba held in the Andalusian city this year.
Introduction picture of the lecture inside the Vimcorsa Exhibition Hall, a few minutes before its beginning, with the terrible image of an exceedingly young teenage militiaman being roughly 16 years old, photographed by Robert Capa with huge mastery and from an amazingly short distance during the Harangue at the Finca de Villa Alicia (1 km in the southwest from the village of Cerro Muriano) on September 5, 1936, approximately at 12:30 h midday, at only 14 km from Córdoba City.
The boy appearing in the photograph (in the same way as the rest of abundant CNT and FAI militiamen from Alcoy, Andalusian militiamen and some Republican soldiers with helmets) is being reported by an anarchist chief standing on a big barrel that the professional troops from the Army of Africa featuring a great combat experience are about to attack them with the aim of killing them all, preferably reducing the distance to the utmost and looking for the hand-to-hand fight, in which they will try to annihilate them by nailing the Mauser rifles bayonets on their heart or tearing their abdominal areas apart.
The anguish, fear of death and very high probability of not seeing any more his beloved ones have been highly skilfully captured by Capa (who manages to go utterly unnoticed at the photographic act moment) on the militiaman´s face, creating an extraordinary and defining timeless image about what war is really and depeicting the tremendous stress of the instants previous to death.
The authorship by Capa and location of this image at the Finca de Villa Alicia were discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on September 24, 2011.
José Luis Caballano Alcántara (President of AFOCO during the 2010-2012 period, Industrial Management Engineer, Honorary Collaborator of the Electrotechnics and Electronics at the Higher Polytechnic School of the Organic Chemistry Department within the Sciences Faculty of Cordoba University, winner of the Félix Hernández Architecture Award 2012 bestowed by the COACO, Diploma in Advanced Studies on Energetic Politics of the European Union, Director of the Section SIGE System of Geographic and Statistic Information of the Provincial Government of Cordoba, Vicepresident of the Spanish Professional Association of Industrial Management, a recognixed expert in Technical Photography of Infrastructures, Fixtures and Fittings and a great lover of photography and its great masters, who has travelled across a number of countries all over the world getting pictures oozing good taste, having recently taking part in the Fujifilm X World Gallery Exhibition in January 2016) during his presentation of the lecture by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on the two extraordinary and pioneer reportages made by Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano area and its surroundings on September 5, 1936 with which he gave birth to the Modern War Photojournalism.
Page 5 of the original Gesamt-Katalog Ernst Leitz Wetzlar from 1936 showing the Leica II (Model D) with a 4 elements in 3 groups Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens designed by Professor Max Berek.
This revolutionary 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder camera launched into market by the legendary German photographic firm in 1932, was the model used by Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano and its environs on September 5, 1936.
Devised by the optical engineer, industrial designer and genius of the miniaturized precision mechanics Oskar Barnack, its incredibly small dimensions and weight for the time alon with the absence of a swivelling mirror enabled to shoot handheld without any trepidation at very slow shutter speeds of up to 1/20 s, as well as boasting a built-in rangefinder, a screw mount with possibility of coupling lenses of different focal lengths, capacity for 36 shots and a fabulous utterly mechanic rubberized silk shutter generating an almost imperceptible noise on pressing the shutter release button, traits which enormously boosted the agile and dynamic photojournalism unlike the large format cameras (very big and heavy, which needed the use of a tripod and hindered very much the photographers movements and anticipation) and the medium format ones very limited regarding their versatility of use, including the smallest folding ones like the Zeiss Ikon Kolibri using 3 x 4 cm format on 127 film, because they had a fixed lens and it was not possible to couple them a wide choice of interchangeable lenses featuring different focal lengths and whose quantity of shots was sensibly inferior (8 with a 6 x 9 cm medium format 120 roll, 12 with a 6 x 6 cm format, and 16 with a 6 x 4.5 format camera) in comparison to the 36 or 37 shots which could be done with a mirroless with rangefinder screwmount Leica camera in symbiosis with a 24 x 36 mm format film roll.
Selective reframing of one of the pictures of the Harangue made by Capa at the Finca de Villa Alicia (around 1k in the southwest from Cerro Muriano village) on September 5, 1936 and in which in addition to finding the exact location where it was taken, José Manuel Serrano Esparza discovered on August 1, 2010 that the woman whose head appears on far left of the image is Gerda Taro.
Tabor of Regulares Moroccan soldier. Of the three Francoist columns launched by general Varela against Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936, the right one (under the command of colonel Sáenz de Buruaga) was the most powerful and pivotal for the success of the operation, since it was made up by nothing less than three elite units from the Army of Africa featuring great experience in offensive missions: a tabor of Regulares from Melilla, the Squadron of Regulares from Ceuta nº 3 and the Squadron of Regulares from Alhucemas, all of them consisting of exceedingly hard battle-toughened Moroccan soldiers, extremely fast in their encircling movements, lethal in the hand-to-hand fight with fixed bayonets, with a remarkable ability to stretch the front lines and a very high combat morale which allowed them to survive even in the most vulnerable situations.
The new photographs whose authorship by Capa and location in the Finca of Villa Alicia have been discovered betweeen 2010 and 2013 undoubtedly prove that the battle of Cero Muriano (whose front line was on September 5, 1936 in Torreárboles Hill, Las Malagueñas Hill and the Finca de Villa Alicia) was much more important and bloody than believed hitherto.
The onslaught was fundamental for the Francoist side, who needed at all cost to free itself of the steady pressure and possibility of attack on Córdoba City which meant the massive presence of Republican troops in the area of Cerro Muriano (particularly in the aforementioned hills), so general Varela (top specialist of the Francoist Army in offensive missions) made on September 5, 1936 a devastating attack with three columns (the left one under the command of major Sagrado, the middle one under the command of major Alvarez Rementería and the right one under the command of colonel Sáenz de Buruaga).
To all of that that one ought to add that the Francoist attacking forces used a vast assortment of cannons (155 mm, 105 mm and 75 mm caliber).
Therefore, the figure of 1 dead in combat suffered by the Republican troops in the Battle of Cerro Muriano which appears in some sources is a complete fallacy and can be bluntly defined as a folly.
Evidence clearly indicate that the real figure of dead men in the Republican troops within the four areas in which there were combats (Las Malagueñas, Torreárboles and the Finca de Villa Alicia on September 5, 1936 and inside the village of Cerro Muriano early in the morning on September 6, 1936) was at least of 150, because throughout the Spanish Civil War it was a common practice to lie on the real quantity of killed in action men, something that also happened in the Francoist side, which recognized 10 dead men in the battle (probably they had double or triple killed soldiers).
Anybody watching the orography of Torreárboles hill (specially its south slope, featuring a very steep slope and which was smashed by the Francoist artillery and aviation for hours to help the attack by major Sagrado´s left column, very difficult and upwards, against the Republican troops and militiamen who shot them from the summit with everything they had), along with the fact that inside the Mansión de las Malagueñas, a large and elegant country house crowning the peak of Las Malagueñas height (the other hill in dispute) was the Republican advanced command post in the area (with majors Juan Bernal, Armentia, Balibrea and Aviraneta, so it was the main target of Sáenz de Buruaga´s right column), the sheer ascent to both heights (for whose assault there had undoubtedly to be ruthless uphill clashes, meter by meter through thrusts) and the position of the Finca de Villa Alicia in the middle zone of encircling manoeuver across which the Francoist troops needed to cut a swath at all costs, mopping up as soon as possible all resistance before being able to attack Torreárboles north side, will easily grasp that it is utterly impossible that the Republican forces in the area had only one man killed in action, and that their dead men in action had really to be a great many more.
As a matter of fact, in the war report on September 6, 1936 of the General Varela Memoirs, it is said: " The enemy was harshly punished, leaving numerous bodies in our power ".
Nevertheless, it must be taken into account that this statement refers to the killed Republican men during the Francoist attack to the village of Cerro Muriano that took place between approximately eight and ten in the morning of September 6, 1936 and in which 40 Republican soldiers were shot on the spot beside a trench, to which should be added the men killed in other places of the village (the Francoist side gave a figure of 120 Republican men killed inside the village during this attack, while the Republican side gave an exceedingly exaggerated figure of 200 men killed among the assaulting Francoist troops).
But in the fight for Las Malagueñas, Torreárboles
and the Finca de Villa Alicia (areas located at a distance between 1 km and 2 km from the village) which went on well into the night of September 5, 1936) there had necessarily to be many more Republican deaths than within the village of Cerro Muriano, bearing in mind the magnitude of the combats (roughly 1,600 men by the Francoist side and approximately 2,000 men by the Republican one) and the high quantity of troops used by both contenders, a fact that the Spanish Republic did its best to hide (to such an extent that even some newspapers of those dates proclaimed that the Francoist troops had suffered a big defeat in their attempt to conquer Cerro Muriano, when reality had been just the opposite), because from a military viewpoint the success of the three Francoist columns launched by general Varela and the capture of Cerro Muriano indeed meant that the Republican forces wouldn´t have the initiative in the north of Córdoba city any more and the province capital was definitely freed from pressure.
Another dramatic picture made by Capa during the Harange in the Finca de Villa Alicia and whose authorship and location was discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on September 24, 2011.
The huge distress and angst before the proximity of the fight to the death felt by the militiamen present during the speech delivered to them by two anarchist chiefs who are letting them know that the highly experienced in combat Francoist troops from the Spanish Army of Africa are about to attack them, is currently fully tangible for any observer of the image, nothing less than 81 years after it was taken.
One of the most dramatic moments of the lecture happened when the abundant attendees were shown another of the photographs made by Capa during the Harangue in the Finca de Villa Alicia (an image whose authorship and location were discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on March 11, 2012) and in which it was unveiled that the speaker appearing standing up on a large barrel is nothing less than Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, Secretary of the CNT from Alcoy (Alicante), delivering a furious speech to the numerous and motley group of CNT and FAI militiamen from Alcoy and Andalutian civil combatants, striving upon making them pluck up courage before the impending battle, in the midst of an atmosphere becoming stifling for the men present in the image, who are listening his words, fear for their lives, think of their loved ones, sweat gushes out and fidgets increases exponentially, in the same way as hatred, in a war context ruled by the first year of the Spanish Civil War, which will be the most ghastly regarding the murder of civilians in the rearguard perpetrated by both contenders, and scads of massacres have already been made all over Spain.
There are a lot of militiamen on whose countenance and attitude uncertainty and jitters appear clearly reflected in their maximum degree.
Selective reframing of the previous image in which you can see Enrique Vañó Nicomedes in full Harangue in the Finca de Villa Alicia around 12:30 h at midday of September 5, 1936.
His facial expression overtly shows tons of rage level and he is trying to build up as much as feasible fearlessness to enhance the morale of the militiamen listening to him and belonging to the most common occupations of the civil society (masons, electricians, farmers, peasants, mechanics, sewer men, printers, cobblers, drivers, etc).
The context is getting more and more surrealistic by the moment, since these men lacking any military training or skill in the use of guns will have to fight in roughly half an hour against the Tabores of Regulares and Legionnaries from the Francoist Army of Africa, who are at this time from a battlefield standpoint the best engagement infantry in the world.
Detail of the Leica II (Model D) serial number 90023 rangefinder camera with which Robert Capa got his pictures in the area of Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936 using 35 mm bulk loaded cinematographic Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic black and white film featuring a sensitivity of Weston 32, roughly equivalent to ISO 40.
Exactly the same camera and chemical emulsion he used four years before, in 1932, when he made his first major reportage of his career: the coverage of the speech by Leon Trotsky inside the Sports Palace in Copenhaguen (Denmark).
It can also be seen the non coated Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 serial number 133594 lens coupled to the Leica II (Model D) and designed by Max Berek, a preeminent physicist, mathematician, great expert in mechanics and chief design of the microscopes section and photographic lenses of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar firm.
The Leica II (Model D) was one of the masterpieces of the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar team directed by Oskar Barnack and the first one featuring a built-in rangefinder linked to the focusing mechanism of the objective until two images coincide through the classic system of overlapping into one, and though the windows of rangefinder and viewfinder weren´t integrated between each other, the presence of that rangefinder made that photographers could easily find the distance and accurately focus the lens, with the operations of focusing and composition being made in a separate but quick way.
On the other hand, the non coated Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 sporting a 4 elements in 3 groups Tessar optical scheme designed by Max Berek in 1924, rendered a huge image quality for the time and was by far the world benchmark in terms of resolving power and contrast along with the more luminous and extraordinary 7 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 and 6 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 designed by the genius Ludwig Bertele, albeit the impressive compactness of the Elmar with its 125 g and fostered by its collapsible nature, turned it equally into a powerful weapon to photograph handheld in synergy with the also tiny dimensions and weight of the screw mount Leicas like the Leica II (Model D).
A further instant of the lecture permeated by the moments prior to death: another of the images made by Robert Capa during the Harangue in the Finca de Villa Alicia.
In this picture, created in vertical format and whose authorship and location were discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on August 6, 2013, we can also see Enrique Vañó Nicomedes, who with his mouth open and a fierce gesture on his face, is now looking at the right of the image.
These are moments of unutterable emotional intensity captured by Capa, who photographs with great talent what war really is and the slew of simultaneous feelings crossing the minds of those one taking part in it, in addition to the physiological reactions arising from its imminence: some of them are drying the saliva flowing copiously from their lips as a consequence of the uneasiness, other ones are in introspective and highly worried attitude, some more appear with their mouths open wide and looks filled with noticeable anxiety, one of them has his head low and rubs his nails because of the stress, another one is squeezing his face with his left hand as a result of the hefty tension, the concern and to wipe the sweat off, an around 14 years old militiaman is visibly nervous and with his countenance stirred, etc.
It´s a heartrending and terrible scene, specially apparent in the militiamen located on the right of the picture, some of them exceedingly young (between 14 and 18 years old).
One more picture belonging to the reportage The Harangue made by Capa in the Finca de Villa Alicia and in which can be seen a numerous group of mostly Andalusian militiamen (together with some others from Alcoy CNT and FAI) among whom stands outs one appearing in the foreground clad in a checquered beret and a mien denoting apparent distress (staring at the anachist chief pronouncing his words to boost them morale before combat), a kind of dark thin cloak with all its buttons being unfastened with the exception of the nearest to his neck, dark trousers and armed with a simple caliber 12 shotgun with two barrels — protruding behind the beret — whose effective range is 40-50 meters, in contrast to the 7 x 57 mm Mauser rifles and mosquetones used by the tabors of Regulares and legionnaries able to easily kill a man from a distance of 600 m shooting handheld and up to 900 meters leaning the gun on a firm base.
The ambiance of forthcoming tragedy is powerfully enhanced by the presence of a mature man on the right of the image, dressed with a black beret lit by the sun and who is holding a cigarette (perhaps the last one he will be able to smoke) between his left hand index and middle fingers. His clothes are rather dirty and his face very weathered by many years of piecework, from dawn to dusk for a miserable salary and subkected to every sort of hardships — including a deficient nourishment — which have made him get old prematurely, since though he is around 30-35 years old, he seems to be in his 40-45.
He appears lost in thought and isn´t looking at the speaker any longer, being pensive and surely thinking about his dear ones, fears for his life and feels a huge chagrin before the high probability of not seeing more the members of his family and leaving his wife and children helpless.
It has been known that this picture had been made by Robert Capa since 1938, because it appears in one of the pages of the book Death in the Making, published in New York by Covici-Friece, as well as having appeared on page 727 of the English magazine The Illustrated London News of October 24, 1936, though its exact location was unknown until it was discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza on April 15, 2011.
Photograph made by Robert Capa beside the Cortjo de Villa Alicia — inside the Finca bearing the same name, located at approximately 1 km in the southwest from the village of Cerro Muriano — , very few meters before reaching it, in the stretch of path crossing adjacent, called Camino de Villa Alicia and also Vereda de la Piedra Escrita.
It is one of the first images of refugees taken by Capa at midday of September 5, 1936.
We can see a father clad in typycal Andalusian hat and walking leading a familiar group advancing behind him, made up by his woman and children mounted on donkeys (a teenage girl on his left, a little girl between 6 and 8 years old on his right and on far left of the picture is his wife dressed with dark attire and taking a baby between his arms), while behind the teenage daughter of the man who is at the front of the march you can glimpse a little child riding another donkey and whose head protrudes on the right of the girl´s left arm, along with a man in the background of the image, on the right, barely visible, mounted on a white donkey and wearing a peaked cap on his head.
All of them are listening to the exchange of gunfire taking place between the Francoist troops of the left column under the command of major Sagrado which are attacking across the south side of Torreárboles hill and the Republican soldiers defending its top, so the whole family is fleeing to reach safety as soon as possible, going towards the north exit of Cerro Muriano, the old Obejo Train Station and El Vacar.
This picture was almost unknown until the exhibition This is War! Robert Capa at Work held between 2007 and 2008 and in which it was unveiled that it was made by Robert Capa, though the exact location where it was taken was unknown until it was discovered by José Manuel Serrano Esparza in May 2010.
Picture made by Capa at midday of September 5, 1936 next to the Cortijo de Villa Alicia, at roughly 300 meters beyond it, in the direction of Torreárboles hill and whose slope is visible in the background, nearer than in the other two photographs of refugees taken by Capa beside that cortijo.
This image appears in one of the pages of the aforementioned book The Spanish People´s Fight for Liberty, without mentioning either the author or the location where it was captured.
In this horizontal picture we can see two little children mounted on a donkey, with the clear profile of Torreárboles hill observable in the background, on the left of both of them, in an ascending trajectory towards the upper corner of the image.
The elder brother is holding the little one, sitting on a pillow and with his naked leg in sight.
Both children are wearing pieces of white fabric tied by their mother and placed on their heads to protect them from sun beams.
We can likewise discern the black beret and face in shadow of a man, probably the father or grandfather of both children, protruding over the pillow.
Also distinguishable appear a plaid blanket a plaid blanket on the packsaddle on the left of the image and the donkey´s right eye in the lower right area of the picture.
The discovery of the authorship by Capa and location of this image was made by José Manuel Serrano Esparza in May 2010.
José Luis Caballano Alcántara, apparently thrilled, pronounces some words as a synopsis just after the lecture on Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936, the day in which Modern War Photojournalism was born.
José Luis Caballano Alcántara presenting José Manuel Serrano Esparza with a copy of the mythical book Juan Vacas, Dreams of a Photographer Anthological Work 1964-1999, a 467 page full-fledged masterpiece published by the Culture Delegation of Córdoba Provincial Government in 199 in 24 x 28 cm large format, with a top-notch printing quality of the best images of the foremost photographer and artist from Cordoba (Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts and Crafts and Noble Arts of the city) and two of whose image are kept by the New York Museum of Modern Art, one of them about the Cordoba Mosque), Founder Member of AFOCO along with Alicia Reguera and José F. Gálvez in 1981, being Honorary President of that association until his death in 2007.
José F. Gálvez, President of AFOCO ( Association of Photographers from Cordoba ), National Prize of Photography in 2006, Golden Trophy to the Best Andalusian Photographer 1984-1985, Andalusian Photography Award 1998-1999, Director of the International Photography Biennal of Cordoba in its five editions, curator of more than 200 photographic exhibitions held at the Posada del Potro ( one of the three most important picture galleries in Europe during mid nineties), Bellas Artes Museum, Sala Capitulares and others, promoter of photographic publicatrions like the Albors Collection and the catalogues of the prestigious Mezquita Prize, Secretary of the First Congress of History of the Andalusian Photography and artistic advisor of the Diafragma Photo Gallery from 1990 until 2007) kindly congratulating José Manuel Serrano Esparza after the lecture. The aforementioned fabulous book with the best pictures made by Juan Vacas can be seen on the table.
Text and Photos: Antonio García Polvillo / Javier Izquierdo