World

Is this Gerda Taro, famed Spanish Civil War photographer?

Gerda Taro was the first woman photojournalist to be killed in a war, when she was run over by a tank in 1937. No images of her body have ever been seen ... until now?

Last week, a former British soldier named John Kiszely published a photo on Twitter of his father, a doctor who volunteered with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. The photo shows Kiszely's father dabbing blood from a woman's face as she lay on a stretcher.

Soon after, Kiszely received a comment on the Twitter post: "John, I think the lady is Gerda Taro, the partner of the legendary photographer Robert Capa. She died of injuries when her car collided with a tank on the way back from the Battle of Brunete on 26 July 1937. Does that make sense?"


It did make sense. Kiszely checked the back of the photo and noticed a handwritten inscription: "Brunete Front June 1937 (in Torrelodones) Mrs. Frank Capa. Killed at Brunete."

"I had never looked at the back of the photograph until now," Kiszely, who lives in Oxford, England, told Univision News. He's had the photo for 30 years.

"When my father died, there was a reunion in England, for people who fought in the International Brigades, and they invited me. One of my father's friends gave me the photo but I never paid much attention to the back side,” Kiszely said. “He didn't tell me my father was treating a famous woman."

Even after he looked at the back of the photo on Tuesday, Kiszely still didn't realize the magnitude of the discovery.

The inscription reads Ms. Frank Capa. But the famous war photographer was named Robert Capa. Gerda Taro is not well known in England, so Kiszely had to Google the woman's name.


"Gerda Taro" was the name used by photographer Gerda Pohorylle to sign her photos. Born in Germany in 1910, Pohorylle, who was Jewish, fled to Paris in 1933, where she met Hungarian photographer Andre Friedman and became his lab assistant and student.

Friedman's photos didn't sell, as there was a more famous French photographer working at the time named George Friedman. So he started signing his photos as Robert Capa. Those images sold well, so both Friedman and Pohorylle started to sell their work under the Capa name.


The couple traveled to Spain in 1936 to cover the Civil War, publishing their photographs in important publications. But nobody knows which photos were snapped by Friedman and which by Pohorylle. The couple broke up and Friedman kept the name Robert Capa while Gerta Pohorylle began to sign her photos as Gerda Taro.

The authorship of their work during the early days of the war remains uncertain. Even Capa's most famous photo of the Spanish Civil War, The Falling Soldier, is sometimes credited to Taro.


Taro was one of a handful of women photographers to cover the front lines and is considered to be the first woman photojournalist ever killed in combat. She was 26 and was returning from the battle of Brunete when she fell out of her car and was run over by a tank on July 26, 1937. The date written on the back of Kiszely's photo (June) appears to be wrong.

Kiszely has questions: "That was clearly written after the photo was taken. And why did this person call him Frank? Was it a pseudonym? Or maybe the person made a mistake," he said.

The mix-up between the names Robert Capa and Frank Capa seems to be fairly common, as evidenced here, here and here.

Alfonso del Barrio, director of the magazine FV, who published a report on the 80th anniversary of the photographer's death and who managed to locate Gerda Taro's death certificate, says the name created by Taro and Friedman is a combination which comes from the actor Robert Taylor and director Frank Capra.

There are lingering doubts about the identity of the woman in Kiszely's photo. But circumstantial evidence supports the theory that it is indeed Taro who is pictured.

FV photography magazine reported that the photo showing Dr. Kiszely treating the woman had been published in a Spanish-language book, Sanidad en las Brigadas (Healthcare in the Brigades) under the cutline: "John Kiszely, Hungarian doctor, treating the face of a wounded person in the hospital reception hall at El Escorial, turned into a war hospital. Battle of Brunete." Taro is known to have died at the El Escorial hospital.

Maybe it's Gerda Taro in the picture. Maybe it's someone else who died in July in Brunete and was somehow linked to a person name Frank Capa, and maybe the writing has nothing at all to do with the photo.

But Kiszely said he learned something. His father, he said, was 28 years old at the time.

"And I believe Gerda Taro was more or less the same age. But I don't believe they knew each other. We didn't talk a lot about his time in Spain", Kiszely said. "I always believed that the picture was taken because of my father, but now I understand that it was likely taken because of his patient."

And there are more questions still: Taro was hit on the 25th of July and died the next morning in the hospital. If the woman in the photo is Taro, was she alive still or had she died? Is it a photo of her dead body, or the last photo of her alive?