Any of you who have taken either an undergraduate or graduate class with me have almost certainly seen this picture. Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” is one of the most admired and important war photos taken in the 20th century.
You may want to check out the details of a controversy about the photo that has been reported in the New York Times.
I am reserving judgement, but I can’t help wondering: The authenticity of an image may go away, but what happens to all of the emotions and ideas it may have inspired? Might something revealed to be unreal still remain absolutely real in its consequences?
After all, no one can retroactively cancel the emotions I felt when I first saw it as a child. They are part of the cultural raw material that formed who I am.
This does, however, point out the risk we take when we give ourselves over, emotionally and intellectually, to any depiction of reality. Sometimes we are so moved that we forget all of the complexities of the notion of “depiction” and think only of the “reality” we think we are seeing.
Think about it: What in the world would we do and how would we adjust our view of the world if we learned today, several decades after first seeing the photo below taken by Eddie Adams, that General Nygoc Loan had not actually shot a Vietcong guerrilla point blank and that the image was fake?
I honestly don’t know. So much thinking about that war has been invested in this image.