The Mexican Suitcase

If you were not able to see this show at ICP in New York, or buy the book, then this is a must. Just think Robert Capa, the Spanish Civil War, a lost suitcase, a discovery of said suitcase all these years later…..and then you begin to understand this story. There were other players involved here as well, legendary figures, but Capa, for those of you who don’t know, is as influential as any photographer in the history of photography. This goes beyond his images. I know this might sound odd, but I think Capa influenced photographers, and still does, in ways that go way beyond the actual photographs. Capa was an ideal. His attitude, approach, physicality, and flair are emulated by generations of photographers, whether they want to admit it or not. When it comes to romanticizing the photojournalist…all roads lead to Capa.

11 responses to “The Mexican Suitcase”

  1. Chris says:

    Are the days of finds like this and the Vivian Mayer archives numbered? With the majority of photographers shooting on memory cards I just can’t imagine a hard drive full of undiscovered gems being unearthed fifty years from now.m

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Chris,

      Well, I think in great part, yes. I’ve yet to find an archiving specialist who thinks this isn’t happening. The crazy part is that much of what is being created now is lost in a very short period of time. Not only will most of it now survive fifty years, but in fact probably won’t survive five years. I know from seven years of photographing kids that a huge percentage of the family album type work is gone.

  2. dj says:


    for just that very reason- in addition to a few more reasons…

    heart, soul, magical – just to touch on a few.

    • Smogranch says:

      I have to say, I really like film. I use digital and in certain situations it works really well. But, given the choice, I’ll take film. The film archive is great, easy to access, simply to keep up. But, a spark here or there, a flood and that too can disappear.

    • Tom says:

      Every image capture technology has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. I can imagine when they created film as we know it all the glass plate photographers or tin plate guys were shaking their heads and saying gosh isn’t this the end of serious photography. Maybe in some ways it was.
      There’s a documentary on Larry Towell and he talks about film vs digital. He made a good point about digital, it’s too easy to scan through the files and delete the ones that don’t make sense that day. bang, bang, bang. With film you can keep them all and then looking back after some years see things that you didn’t understand at the time you took the photograph. There’s sense to that.
      This whole film vs digital debate had parallels in the music business as well with analogue tube amps / tape recorders vs transistors / digital recorders. Each approach has it’s own advantages.
      I’ve started using a digital camera to take photographs of ‘Blandscapes’ and the clear sterility of the digital image is perfect for that. Film grain would add some character (diminish the ‘bland’) that isn’t appropriate to the subject so film wouldn’t be good for this. I get a kick out of the software programs that add film grain to a digital image. How weird is that?

    • Smogranch says:

      I worked for Kodak when the first real digital cameras arrived. Kodak had settings in their software to emulate different emulsions. I can remember asking the technicians, “Wait a minute, you are telling me this is the future, that I should stop using film now, and yet you are adding features to simulate what you are telling me to stop using?” Nowadays….how much time is spent trying to mimic film? Hundreds of thousands of hours? What is really odd is the number of photographers who condemned analog ways, using digital as a sales tool, who would then turn around and filter up their images to look like a 50-year-old emulsion. And now…many of those same photographers are actually using film. None of it makes sense.
      They are different things, and I think what you are doing, project specific makes a lot of sense. Figure out what you want to do, pick the device and go for it.

    • Carl Peer says:

      Wait a second. You really like film, are you sure?

  3. dj says:

    Flooding is a very serious issue for me.
    Good point Dan. Protect the Negs!!
    The eye wall of Hurricane Irene came over my home just a few days ago. I live 3 miles from the ocean- mold and mildew are also a concern.
    Precautions are a must around here to protect things against the elements. Move the boxes to higher ground or take them with you when you go.[evacuate]
    A few weeks ago I went into those very same boxes and pulled out some prints that were over 20 years old. My friend wanted to make a present for her daughter for her birthday.
    I have prints of her when she was 4 years old. She is now 28.
    How cool is that.
    What an awsome present- we mixed old and new photographs together-
    The past, the present and many of the years in between.

    Digging in the box was like going through a time capsule.

    I wasn’t quite so organized back then- but hey I was still able to put my hand on those prints in just a few minutes.
    The thought of digging through 20+years of digital images just reinforced my desire to continue shooting film.
    Coming accross those old contact sheets and negatives..well …lets just say that inspired a few other thoughts for some wintertime projects!

  4. Quinton says:

    Regardless of the technology involved, nothing will last forever.

    Some images will stand the tests of time, environment, and technological progression better then others, but I think Dan’s point about “Figure out what you want to do, pick the device and go for it.” hits right at the heart of the matter.

    Do what you can to ensure that your images will be seen in the future, good prints, be they analogue, or digital, are probably our best assurance of this; but at the same time, I think we need to focus less on debates around process, and more on the making of images that have something valuable to add to our understanding of the time in which we live and work.

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