Monthly Archives: July 2008

Boxes, Parvati Nair, `Lost and Found’ (5)

When you come to think of it, the world is full of boxes. Boxes that overlap, collide, fit into one another and contain yet more boxes inside. Boxes that release boxes. The image of the suitcase on the blog also brought thoughts of another suitcase to me. One that was less domestic or immediate, but important nonetheless, that I had read about in recent weeks. Capa’s lost suitcase []. Filled with unseen images of the Spanish Civil War. Images that Capa himself believed to have been lost. A lost suitcase when found contains not possessions, but a cache. Findings. Treasure. The invaluable. And indeed, Capa’s images of the Spanish Civil War are rightly invaluable. Think of Capa fleeing war-torn Paris for the safety of America, abandoning the contents of his dark room yet another box. Think too of the rolls of film transported from Paris in flimsy cardboard cases, boxes too, to Marseille, and from there, in the unlikely hands of a Mexican general, to Mexico City and now, in a final journey, to New York, to that vast repository of images, yes, another box that is the International Center of Photography.
Boxes shadow people. Even when put away, lost or left behind, they accompany them. Boxes remind us of our own mortality. Of journeys in life and death. In this case, though, the box has come back to life, a reminder that a box, if closed, can always be reopened.
Why is this find of Capa’s images in a suitcase so meaningful? Not merely because they were Capa’s but also because, in the box-like frame of each unearthed image, lie buried memories of Republican Spain. And so it is that this suitcase here leads me to think of Capa’s suitcase and so marks a small gesture of unearthing, of emergence, of shedding light on what has lain invisible and silent for so long. I hear once again the voices of those I knew in Madrid back in the 1970s, when the dictatorship was on its last, shaky legs, Paco, Toñín, Pepe Luis, Cristina, so many others. Who, in broken snippets, told me in whispers that they had been panaderos, albañiles, enfermeras, and then had found themselves becoming Republicans until the war ended. After that, they said, they had been nothing at all, people without memories, without a past. We were lucky to be alive. The neighbour next door would have told on us if he had found out. No me preguntes. Es mejor no recordar. Don’t ask so many questions. I prefer not to remember. It had been the only way to carry on and get by. I think of them whenever I look at Capa’s images. These people I have known. They most probably are no longer alive. So, if the finding of Capa’s images is singularly important for me, it is because it honours them. No, it does not just honour them … it vindicates them. It vindicates who they once were. What they might have been and what they stood for. It validates a dream. When I think of Capa’s work, the image I find most striking is not that famous one of a falling soldier. It is one of a group of Republican women washing clothes in a thin stream of water. Engaged in the act of survival. Like these people I knew, old men in my barrio, who used to sit for hours on chairs out on the pavement in the evenings or who lived their weeks, yes, week after week, in the hope of winning the football pools. Old men in berets who had been gardeners, porters, doormen and messengers, old women who went shopping in the Mercado every morning to buy fresh fish and who walked around with curlers in their hair, these old men and women who had lived in silence and in forgetting for 36 long years. To think of Capa’s rescued images is to remember them.

[Text by Parvati Nair, © 2008]