The Capa Cache
TO the small group of photography experts aware of its existence, it was known simply as “the Mexican suitcase.” And in the pantheon of lost modern cultural treasures, it was surrounded by the same mythical aura as Hemingway’s early manuscripts, which vanished from a train station in 1922.
The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.
And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month, when they made what will most likely be their final trip, to the International Center of Photography in Midtown Manhattan, founded by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell. After years of quiet, fitful negotiations over what should be their proper home, legal title to the negatives was recently transferred to the Capa estate by descendants of the general, including a Mexican filmmaker who first saw them in the 1990s and soon realized the historical importance of what his family had.