Shooting with Light

New Diorama, London

© Richard Davenport

© Richard Davenport

It’s an old story with a new twist. Everyone has heard of Robert Capa and his Spanish Civil War photos. Less if nothing is known except to the cognoscenti – and maybe not even they until a few years ago – about the woman alongside him, who helped him break into photojournalism and joined him in Spain.

Therein lies the tale of Gerda Taro, brought to vivid life by new `emerging’ company, Idle Motion in a fascinating 80 minutes of visual, physical and narrative theatre at the New Diorama – a theatre sitting incongruously amongst the new glass and steel edifices rising just north of Warren Street, the veritable Canary Wharf of Euston Road.

Amongst all the corporate gloss, Idle Motion’s Shooting the Light uncovers a terrific story of mystery, courage and loss. Gerda – originally German, Gerta Pohorylle and Capa, hailing from Hungary as Endre Friedmann – meet in Paris, two struggling immigrants. In the mid ‘30s, with fascism beginning to make itself felt all over Europe, he starts to teach her about the art of the camera, still comparatively in its infancy, she how to make the best of himself and gain an entree into photo and magazine journalism.

The Spanish Civil War finds them rushing to cover the developing story, photography their way of recording the misery of ordinary people and fighting fascism. The beginning of war photojournalism as we now know it. The rest as they say is history – except it isn’t. For Taro was killed in Spain at the tender age of 26, Capa in Indo-China only a few years later. With him went three boxes of negatives missing until suddenly in 2007, they showed up in Mexico, via a Mexican ambassador.

Idle Motion unravel these events – the discovery of Gerda Taro’s part in documenting the War revealed in the boxes – with a wonderful combination of precision, speed, visual motifs as well as backdrops supplied by photos, courtesy of The ICP (The International Center of Photograpy).

© Richard Davenport

© Richard Davenport

Brilliantly economical – a series of cardboard boxes, out of which characters emerge, stand in for a variety of sites and situations – and splashed alternately in shadow and light, together they’ve devised a piece that not only vibrantly reconstructs a period and its protagonists (including Capa’s brother Cornell whose indefatigable search for the missing negatives finally bore fruit, sadly only after his death) but also manages to freeze frame certain moments suggestive of Robert and Gerda’s photos.

In so doing, they re-establish the integrity of photography and its lasting value for our own age where every moment is a temptation to `selfie’ narcissism.

Congratulations to all: Grace Chapman (June), Sophie Cullen (Gerda), Nathan Parkinson (Cornell Capa), Ellie Simpson (Ruth), and Julian Spooner, a marvellously intense Andrew Friedman.

Grace, Sophie, Ellie and Kate Stanley (director) all met, apparently at secondary school, sharing a passion for theatre. Going separate ways, they then re-connected and formed Idle Motion.

Long may they thrive.

First published in Londongrip, April 2015