La Maleta Mexicana “Inside the Mexican Suitcase: The Rediscovered Negatives of the Spanish Civil War”

By Layne Wells ‘19
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of the International Center of Photography (2016)

Photo courtesy of the International Center of Photography (2016)

On April 12th, 2016, the Athenaeum was a buzz with Claremont students and community members alike, eager to see the infamous lost photos of “La Maleta Mexicana,” or “the Mexican Suitcase.” Speaker Cynthia Young, curator of the Robert Capa Archive at the International Center of Photography in New York City, was asked to speak on the 4,500 photos found in Mexico in 1975 and the mystery that surrounds them. The event was first open to CMC students interested in pursuing Spanish or Hispanic/Latino/Chicano Studies through the Claremont colleges before it opened to the public. Tickets almost instantaneously sold out, thanks to CMC Spanish professors and retired educators across the Consortium. Guests enjoyed authentic Spanish foods from paella to jamón ibérico and were informed that the photography exhibit would be available in Claremont from April 1 to May 15, 2016 for public viewership.

The collection gives the public an opportunity to experience images drawn from the photographic journalism of the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Three photographers, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and Chim (Dawid Szymin), traveled from Western Europe to capture the war in Spain, focusing not only on soldiers and battles but on civilians and families. From countryside to trenches, their photographs show a remarkable variety of perspectives. The end of the war not only decided the fate of the Spanish people but of the Jewish photographers who documented it. At the age of 26, Taro died, crushed by a tank while covering the Battle of Brunette; Capa and Chim fled from Spain at the eve of World War II. Entrusting his darkroom manager with 4.500 negatives from the three photographers, Capa traveled around Europe seeking refuge. Undeveloped 35 mm rolls of film ended in the hands of the current Mexican ambassador, who took them to Mexico, where they lay untouched until 2007. At this time, the three cardboard boxes, affectionately referred to as “The Mexican Suitcase,” were donated to the International Center of Photography.

This Ath-talk was especially relevant with 2016 being the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the war. Claremont McKenna College professor Raquel Vega-Durán of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures has curated this exhibit with students in her courses, working to choose and arrange a number of the images found in Mexico City. Featured Scripps students were Claire Daly and Nora McNeary. For more information on the collection, visit the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at the following hours during the academic year:
Monday - Thursday: 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.; Friday: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Selected videos are posted online the week following the event.