The Mexican Suitcase: Martin Venezky / Appetite Engineers

Curator: Christopher Sergio
date: October 11, 2011
Categories: Book & Magazine Design, Environmental Design
Tags: Exhibition Catalogue, ICP, Photography, Spanish Civil War
Catalogue photo by Christopher Sergio
Regards, June 10, 1937 (Original photo by Gerda Taro)

Robert Capa’s Spanish Civil War photographs are canonical works of the 20th Century. Now, with the discovery of 126 rolls of negative film that were long presumed lost or destroyed, the canon has been reopened for examination—and for new appreciation.

The Mexican Suitcase is a two-book catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in early 2011. The odyssey of the titular suitcase—and its precious cargo—is truly remarkable and mysterious (you can read the full story here). But in short: At the outset of WWII, a large portion of Robert Capa’s negatives went missing as France fell under Nazi occupation. Those negatives finally resurfaced in Mexico City in the 1990s, and the haul was eventually found to include the work of three great photographers of the Spanish Civil War: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour (known as “Chim”).

Catalogue photo by Christopher Sergio
Original photography by Robert Capa

Catalogue photo (detail) by Christopher Sergio
Original photo by Chim (David Seymour)

Catalogue photo by Christopher Sergio
Madrid, February 1937

Catalogue photo by Christopher Sergio
Original photography by Gerda Taro

Catalogue photo by Christopher Sergio
Original photograph by Gerda Taro

The most striking aspect of the catalogue’s design (and this was also true of the exhibition) is how well it succeeds in laying open the creative process of these three great photographers. The problem with canonical images is, of course, that they are often so revered that they can seem to float above the creative process, rather than arise out of it. 

Here, finally, we can see not just the Great Image, but the images directly before and after it on the roll; the mood and flow of the entire day or week; and how the images were edited and put into use—mostly in the international news magazines of their day. Here is a chance to sift through a day’s work just as these photographers did, with the same raw material—and opportunity for discovery. 

The catalogue was designed by Martin Venezky / Appetite Engineers, and meticulously printed by Steidl.
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