Monday, October 15, 2007

Revistas Y Guerra 1936 - 1939

For those of you who are lucky enough to be in the New York area, there is a great show at the International Center of Photography on Gerda Taro.

Taro was one of the better (some say the best) photojournalists who photographed the Spanish Civil War. She traveled with Robert Capa to photograph the war but it seems her political sympathies could be as strong as her drive to photograph. It certainly shows in her photographs. She often chooses vantage points that stress almost Leni Reifenstahl-ish images of heroism.

She and Robert Capa were a couple although she refused his proposal for marriage. She was killed on July 27th 1937, the very day she was supposed to have returned to Paris, after a tank collided with her car during the retreat from the Battle of Brunete. This unfortunate event made her most likely the first female war photographer to be killed in action.

In the short life she had as a photographer, one might wonder whether she would have taken some of the wind from Capa’s sails as to who would have gone on to become the world’s great war photographer. She and Capa were planning on traveling together to photograph the conflict between China and Japan.

One of the rooms in the Taro exhibition is of posters and magazines that were printed during the Spanish Civil War. The posters, known as “shouts from the wall,” played a strong part in the defining the image of that war and are considered great examples of the propagandistic documents of their time. Using photomontage techniques, they both excite and alarm through their imagery, design, typography and use of color.

While at the exhibition a friend of mine discovered a book called Revistas y Guerra 1936-39 which is an exhibition catalog from a show that was on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sophia in Madrid. Magazines (revistas) played a strong part in disseminating information and images during the Spanish Civil War and hundreds were published in that time. The Spanish Civil War may have been the photographic equivalent of what the Vietnam War was to television, at least for the amount of images made and for their rapid distribution to the public.

The objective of most of the wartime magazines was to reach the greatest number of people to relay the propagandistic message in the content. Many were targeted to a particular group and not only served to untie that group but to act as rallying cries aimed at the opposition and to define political ideals.

A few of the magazines were published directly from the front lines of battle. The periodical Avace was actually produced via mobile presses which were hybrids of trucks and printing presses built to work ‘en campana.’

What seems surprising is the number of and variety of publications that were produced during a war where paper, ink and access to printing presses were difficult to obtain. This exhibition concentrated on magazines but there were many other newspapers and bulletins that blur the distinction as to what constitutes a magazine.

The book Revistas Y Guerre 1936-39mis small in trim size but has almost 400 pages of content. It reproduces all examples in full color and it features hundreds of illustrations. It is an import from Spain so the price seems a bit expensive at $85.00. Especially if just basing on the size and the fact that it is soft cover, but the content is rich and the package is very handsome.

The essay is in Spanish throughout the body of the book and there an English translation in the back. The only draw for English speakers is that the illustrations are disconnected from the translation so there is much back and forth page turning required to follow along. Otherwise brush up on your Spanish.

One note, I am usually very careful in handling my books but I have noticed a few of this one’s signatures pulling out of the glue on my copy. So beware, I do not think that this is the best bound book out there. Regardless, this is a great one for poster and magazine design of the Spanish Civil War period so get it and let it fall apart. Better yet, destroy it and allow it to show that it is loved and not neglected.