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The things they carried: a gendered rereading of photographs of displacement during the Spanish Civil War

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During the Spanish Civil War, photojournalism established itself as a modern practice. Photographers situated themselves as autonomous agents, offering passionate, implicated coverage of a war that engaged collective emotions. Their photographic practices were staunchly rooted in the tenets of observation without eschewing political commitment. In this paper, we argue that Spanish Civil War photographers, specifically Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Kati Horna and David “Chim” Seymour, developed a range of visual practices that were entangled with questions regarding gender and politics. Both in the production of images and in their circulation and reception, photographers were acutely attuned to the politics of visually representing human suffering. Although ideals linked to the male soldier were essential to establishing the figure of the modern photo-reporter, we argue that war photographers produced something far more complex than a simple “masculine” gaze. By considering photographs that captured experiences of wartime displacement, we analyze the figure of the mother as a key visual trope in the Spanish Civil War archive. We argue that photographs of mothers on the move provide a window into understanding how, despite humanitarian claims to political neutrality, humanitarian photographic practice is deeply political in its ability to situate practices of care at the center of visual strategies deployed to narrate and represent the horrors of war.
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Keywords: Humanitarianism; Spanish Civil War photography; history of emotions; motherhood; refugees

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Art History Department, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain 2: NYU Global–Madrid, New York University, Madrid, Spain

Publication date: October 1, 2020

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