Expanded Myth: Fact & Fiction in Iberian Photojournalism

In addition to their Making Myth Projects, where they have to create their own version of the foundation of or epic adventure to the Wexner Center during the last week of the Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil exhibition, the 600+ students in my Classics 2220: Classical Mythology class have an ‘extra credit’ opportunity where they have to think about how ancient myths can be understood and expanded in another modern and contemporary direction. They are asked to think about the role of the Spanish Civil War in the creation of the phenomenon of Photojournalism and specifically the role of a handful of photographers, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David ‘Chim’ Seymour. Furthermore the recent recovery of the so-called ‘Mexican Suitcase’ just adds to the mythic dimensions of this phenomenon, with the epic adventure of the lost film from Spain to their recovery in Mexico, after being lost for over 70 years. The students will have the opportunity to watch the recent documentary La Maleta Mexicana/The Mexican Suitcase and think about these issues and how ancient mythic narratives of heroic journeys and creative origins are alive and well.

Yet there is a final piece to the puzzle that will be explored in talks by Spanish Civil War expert Sebastiaan Faber (Professor of Hispanic Studies, Oberlin College) and myself  at a small symposium this coming Friday (April 18th), organized by two OSU Humanities Institute Working Groups: Rough Draft and Iberian Studies. What happens when we look back to these mythic origins of Photojournalism in terms of a dichotomy of fact and fiction? Are the photographers the real heroes or have the narratives that surround them taken on mythic propotions at the expense of other figures? In addition, how do these early pioneers of Photojournalism look from the contemporary perspective of the Spanish – or Iberian – photojournalist? What legacies reach back beyond these American and British photographers to Spanish, as well as Latin American figures? How does the Spain of the Civil War compare to the country of the present day? Furthermore, how can the mythic narrative of these photographers during the Civil War translate onto the compelling work of creative, photojournalists, who, like Cristina de Middel, purposefully blur the boundaries between fact and fiction in their work? It is this kind of expanded approach to mythology – ancient and modern – that the students in my class have been grappling with, from Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid, to Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch and Apuleius.

For more information about the symposium, go here. 

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