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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Interesting design inference concerning a historic photo

The cloud patterns in two photos taken during the Spanish Civil War are identical, according to a column by George Will:
In a slightly less dramatic photo of another falling soldier, taken by Capa at the same time - the cloud configuration is the same as in "Falling Soldier" - the soldier falls on the same spot.
The interesting thing is, don't blame photoshop; these pix were created in 1936.

Will goes on to note, quite properly, that photographer Capa had an honourable career as a war photographer (a highly dangerous profession), which came to an abrupt end when he stepped on a land mine. But it seems likely now that he manipulated an iconic photo.

For the evidence base I'll go with the cloud patterns, whose configuration is the same most likely because they had been captured once on film. A design inference.

Added: Commenter Voice Coil at 1 below gives a more expert account of how the photo was probably staged/faked. Note: When I make a design inference, I don't necessarily know how it was done; it's the statistical unlikelihood of chance that prompts investigation. Reuters bought doctored stuff for quite a while before the penny dropped, as have other news outlets.

Why did Capa do it? First, people have only recently begun to be fairly certain that he did it, and he has been dead a long time, so I can only hazard a guess. Will says he was a man of the Left, so I surmise he probably wanted to help his own side by producing an unforgettable photo. But, as every photographer knows, unforgettable photos cannot be produced just when needed. Lots of people hated Franco, as he did, so there probably was no great incentive to doubt or fact-checking.

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