A look inside Robert Capa’s “Mexican Suitcase,” photography from the Spanish Civil War that was long thought to be lost





When the three weathered cardboard boxes — known collectively, and cinematically, as the Mexican suitcase — arrived at the International Center of Photography more than a year ago, one of the first things a conservator did was bend down and sniff the film coiled inside, fearful of a telltale acrid odor, a sign of nitrate decay.

But the rolls turned out to be in remarkably good shape despite being almost untouched for 70 years. And so began a painstaking process of unfurling, scanning and trying to make sense of some 4,300 negatives taken by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War, groundbreaking work that was long thought to be lost but resurfaced several years ago in Mexico City.

What the center’s scholars have found among the 126 rolls over the last several months are a number of previously unknown shots by Capa, one of the founders of the Magnum photo agency and a pioneering war photographer, and by Taro, his professional partner and companion, who died in 1937 when she was struck by a tank near the front, west of Madrid. But more surprising has been the wealth of new work by Seymour, known as Chim, that was in the cases. Another of Magnum’s founders, he was known not for his battle photography but for penetrating documentation of Spanish life in the shadow of war.


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