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Roger Fenton, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Robert Capa... James Mason!!!
Honouring a Landmark Figure in the World History of War Photography

Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, RCR - 1875 -1923 - 3 - The Legend

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Lt. JC Mason DSO, Soldier & War Photographer (detail)
Orig. photo - Original Image Size - 9 x 16 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

Is this really the Greatest War Photographer in the World?

Did Ingrid know she was shacked up with a phony?

Who's the Fake? The Work of Two War Photographers Compared

Lt. James Cooper Mason - Battle of Paardeberg - Feb. 18, 1900
Robert Capa - Death of a Loyalist - Sep. 5, 1936

James' photo, and the circumstances under which it was shot, elevate it to the front rank of great war photographs. It is superior, on many levels, to those shot by other war photographers. For one thing, it was not staged, as so many war photographs are.

It ensures James Cooper Mason an honoured place as a standard setter in the history of world photography, for his pioneering work in shooting the first real documentary action war photo under fire.

Capa's photo has been called the best war photograph of all time. But on many levels it does not compare to James' photo. So much surrounding The Death of a Loyalist was faked and or staged.

The hype, obviously promoted by Capa himself, for business reasons, has always been challenged, especially by those who knew him. Clearly the legend needs modern re-evaluation.

Claim to Fame - first real front line combat photo ever taken Claim to Fame - the best war photograph of all time
Basic photo shows - soldiers shooting in battle and a dead man Basic photo shows - a warrior or actor? in the moment of death
When - Boer War, South Africa, 1900 When - Spanish Civil War, Spain, 1936

"The camera never lies but photographers can and do." Isabel Hilton, The Guardian

Occasion - In the middle of the Battle of Paardeberg Occasion - Pssst! during a Photo Op...
Subjects in dangerous place Subjects in a quiet part of the front

Lt. James Mason
- a letter home

Capturing real death and danger was James' purpose Staging action photos was Capa's original purpose
No photographic deception or fakery intended or commited Photographic deception and fakery intended on many levels
Making money with pictures not a consideration at all Capa tarting up his pictures to improve their salability
Only one photo taken as immediately shot in helmet while doing it Many duplicate staged photos appear in Capa's "proof" sheets
Location deliberately picked because extremely dangerous Location deliberately picked because it was quiet part of the front
The hot battle drew the photographer to get real combat scenes Photographer picked location to stage action photos safely
Photo subjects were already in their natural - war - habitat Photo subject was brought to the shoot location by Capa
Photo subject oblivious of photographer Photo subject only attentive to photographer
Photo subjects not working for photographer Photo subject working for/performing for Capa
Photo subject not coached into position Photo subject coached into place
Photo subjects not asked to pose Photo subject asked to reenact "falling", and even do repeats
Photo subjects shooting real bullets at live enemy Photo subject doing fake charges and falls only for camera
James had no quality controls on his simple box camera Photographer had time to preset focus, exposure, on his Contax
James' photo a genuine, candid, documentary grab shot Capa's photo a rehearsed, staged, show business photo
Photographer in real danger Capa in no danger whatsoever
Photographer had to expose himself to enemy fire to take picture Capa was completely safe and sheltered down in a gully
Photographer shared equal danger with subject Capa shared no danger with his subject
Photographer did not ask subjects to do dangerous things Capa asked subjects to expose themselves on the skyline
Photo of men trying to kill the enemy Photo of photographer killing his actor
Dead man not the fault of photographer Subject died only because he was performing for Capa

CLEARLY, ON EVERY LEVEL, AND BY ANY MEASURE, THIS PHOTO SETS THE HIGH STANDARD FOR GENUINE WAR ACTION PICTURES, BY A MAN WHO THREW HIMSELF INTO HARM'S WAY - AND NO ONE ELSE - ONLY BECAUSE THIS WAS A STORY HE THOUGHT NEEDED TELLING, NOT TO EARN MONEY, FULFILL A CONTRACT, PLEASE AN EMPLOYER, OR WIN PERSONAL FAME AND FORTUNE.

Just another FAKED WAR ACTION PICTURE
"The operation was a success;
unfortunately the patient died..."

IT SHOULD REALLY BE IN THE WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION FILE FOR A GRIEVANCE CLAIM STEMMING FROM HAVING TO WORK FOR MINIMAL, IF ANY WAGES, FOR AN EMPLOYER MAKING SOMEONE TO REPEATEDLY WORK IN AN UNSAFE ENVIRONMENT WHILE HIDING HIMSELF OUT OF HARM'S WAY.

Challenging The "Authenticity" of the Death of a Loyalist

The article by Isabel Hilton in the Guardian, in 2008 (reprinted in full below right) refers only to a tiny bit of the evidence and some of the experts who have challenged the authenticity of what this photograph purports to show.

By Goggling the story you can find evidence from colleagues of Capa who were there on the day the photo(s) were made. And others who recorded his comments at other times in unguarded moments.

Clearly the photo caused a sensation at the time and elevated Capa to star status as a war photographer with a single image.

What a talent, to be not only in a death defying war zone, but to actually be between the enemy and the charging, dying warrior. Why the fatal bullet must have passed between his camera straps... And to not only have the subject completely focused, and in frame, and click the shutter at the precise time a distant rifleman pressed the trigger. The mind boggles at the coincidences.

Capa, by personality, as well as for good business reasons, was not going to correct people making wrong assumptions about his talent in taking this photo and in being at the right place at the right time through sheer guts, prescience, and daredevil bravado.

He knew the photo was not the result of any of those things; it was a lucky accident that happened while he was doing what photographers have always done - fake a good shot.

No one will ever find out... It was pure Hollywood. You know, fake sincerity, fake boobs, fake morals, oh, and did we forget, the world centre of fake photography, all done with phony set-ups, and peopled with a city of actors and actresses employed solely for faking false sentiments.

So Capa clearly knew how, and why, Garcia died. And perhaps it troubled him to have propped him up, into harm's way, just for a picture.

The testimony of eyewitness contemporaries, photo analysts, terrain examiners, anatomic and behavioural specialists, and meteorological experts, combined, lead us to a few unassailable conclusions about how, and why, this photo came to be and what it depicts:

- Capa had set out to shoot some staged action pictures, not real war action photos

- the location was picked exactly because it was not dangerous at the time. It was a "quiet" part of the war zone. The soldiers who agreed to perform for Capa were picked because they had nothing else to do at the time.

- Capa had asked the men to pose running down the hill for him or pose as if falling. (One expert says body language alone shows Garcia was not running when shot, but standing, probably preparatory to doing his "death fall" for Capa who was busy focusing and setting his aperture on his Contax. When PING... and CLICK, and it was all over for Garcia and Capa had it made.

Think About It - A horse, shot at the gallop, plunges forward. A runner, with his body mass high up, and leaning ahead of his lightweight legs, if hit by a tiny bullet, will also pitch forward every time. Anyone who's ever run with a rifle, holds it way out front, not way back. It's the first thing to pitch forward when the carrier is shot. Remember, its momentum is not altered by a bullet hitting the man. It keeps on going forward, not back. And no tiny high speed bullet can countervail a body mass of 180 pound man plunging forwards.

This man is falling backwards with his legs way out in front of his body. And throwing his rifle back. As if he was hit by a huge cannon ball, or more probably a rifle bullet while standing still. That, alone, accounts for his body language and rifle position at the moment of death. He was probably shot while waiting for Capa to set the focus and exposure. In fact he falls exactly like a man standing who is shot by a firing squad.

Below
the celebrated picture of Canadian Gat Howard and a colleague, supposedly being executed by the Boers. Famed illustrator George Soper shows the mechanics of how a standing body falls when shot. Note the hat falling back - like the rifle in Capa's picture.


Above another famous Boer War image by the celebrated illustrator Stanley L. Wood, showing how a man on the run really falls when he is shot - forward with his legs behind... And his hands stretched forward - and if he had a rifle it would be thrown forwards too.

This example of momentum physics would happen on flat ground. But when the runner is leaning forward, running downhill, especially on a severe slope, like in Capa's picture, the forward momentum of arms, rifle, body would be even more pronounced. Ask yourself - how can he possibly fall uphill?

Wood used behavioural common sense of bodies in motion to depict what we all know. Compare his depiction with Capa's picture of a supposed downhill runner being shot. Who's right?

- another "dying Loyalist" shows up in other Capa pictures in exactly the same place - literally - shot the same (time of) day

- Capa asked the men to do "repeats" so he could preset the focus and exposure, knowing the exact place the men were to "die" because he told them where to do it

- Garcia was killed doing a "repeat" when rebels in the area noticed what was happening on the distant hillside with men running up and down, and naturally enough, decided to go bag a victim when they weren't expecting it

- Garcia would not have died had he not done "repeats" in the same spot to please the photographer. Everyone in a war zone knows you don't repeat your behaviour lest the enemy target your predictable movements. Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Hamas leaders in Gaza, don't sleep in the same house twice. And Canadians don't drive the same route habitually in Afghanistan. They know that would be asking for it!

Perhaps Capa was not aware of these basics. The Spanish Civil War was his first war and he had only been there a short while.

He clearly was no expert at how men wage war at the time. Or was he just callous? But making a man do a repeat for a photo op - or making him stand still while Capa focused and set the aperture on his camera - in a war zone, clearly caused Garcia's death.

Blame it on Capa's inexperience if you will. Or nerve.

But without Capa's show business direction Garcia would have lived on that day.

And we would not have another in a long line of faked action war pictures.

This one unfortunately features an actor in a performance, not a soldier on the attack.

Capa has photographed wonderfully an actor whom he would never have to pay. The focus and exposure are perfect. It has all the quality of a Hollywood production still. Hey, we may be on to something there...

Do compare it with Capa's D-Day pics, eight years later, when he was in a real war zone with bullets flying all over, and Capa's pictures are shaky, poorly focused, and roughly exposed. Why the difference in real war action pictures? From the same photographer... Funny how hands get shaky when you're doing dangerous stuff... But we would definitely say that James has the steadier hand under fire...

It is every photo, TV, or movie director's dream. High priced actors doing death defying stunts so he can make a buck. And then kill them off at the end before having to issue pay checks.

This is all so far removed from the morality and ethics of Canadian war photographer, and soldier, Lt. JC Mason DSO, who asked no one to do anything dangerous, or special, for him just so he could get a great photo.

He only risked his own life, because he thought the story needed telling, not to win the fame, fortune, and shacking up with famous actresses (Ingrid Bergman) which Capa craved.

PS. below Capa not faked on D-Day, 1944. The World was watching... Thousands of men - and possible death from real combat - were all around him... Keep still pounding heart... and shaking hands...
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Photo, Lt. James Cooper Mason, Feb. 1900
Orig. Mason photo - Original Size - 8.5 x 8.5 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON
A photo taken just days before James shot his famous standard setting combat photo dressed as he was at the time he took it.

"The camera never lies.
But photographers can and do"

Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, Sep. 27, 2008

A stunning new twist in the story of Capa's iconic war image shows that authenticity is more than just an artistic criterion.

Federico Borrell García, a young Republican militiaman in the Spanish civil war, died, it now seems certain, on September 5 1936, shot by Francoist rebels on a hillside in Cerro Muriano near Cordoba.

His death might have gone unremarked, except that the image of that moment was celebrated for 40 years as one of the most famous war photographs of the 20th century.

It was not Borrell's name that was famous - his identity was established only relatively recently - but that of Robert Capa, whose reputation was made by the photograph.

Then, in 1975, came the suggestion that Capa had faked the picture. Now new evidence suggests another, darker twist to the story and adds a new dimension to the complex ethics of reporting war.

The first doubts were raised by journalist Phillip Knightley, in his book on media and propaganda war, The First Casualty, in which he alleged that Capa had staged the scene for the camera. Knightley discovered that the picture had first been published in the French magazine, Vu.

The caption, believed to have been written by Capa, described soldiers, "running down the slope. Suddenly their soaring was interrupted, a bullet whistled and their blood was drunk by their native soil."


A year later, Life magazine republished it, captioned as the instant of a soldier's death. Strangely, Capa had shot a picture of a second soldier, similar in appearance, falling on the identical spot; a third picture of a dead militiaman holding his rifle across his stomach corresponds to neither of the first two; and a group shot, in which Borrell is visible, is of a relaxed group posing for the camera.

None of the other images suggested a battle was in progress, though the location is known to have been on the frontline.

Capa had been vague about what happened and Knightley had tried in vain to find all the negatives to examine the sequence of events.

Capa was a great photographer but he was not averse to faking. In 1937 he fabricated footage for the March of Time newsreel series.

He told the Life photographer, Hansel Mieth, that the Borrell picture had been taken when the militiamen were fooling around, not in the heat of battle as had been believed. She added that Capa seemed upset and said little more except that it "haunted him badly".

Since Borrell's death on that day has been confirmed, the image appears to be that of the moment at which he was shot. But further evidence uncovered by the late curator of the Capa archive, Richard Wheelan - to be shown in a forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican in London - suggests another explanation for Capa's unease.

All the negatives are lost, but the contact prints and Capa's notebooks survive. Wheelan concluded that Capa and his girlfriend Gerda Taro had come across the group of militiamen taking a siesta at the foot of a slope.

The siesta was respected by both sides in the war, and since no action was taking place, Capa persuaded the men to pose for a series of simulated scenes. The contact prints of the men pointing their guns over the side of a gully, and of the group cheerfully raising their rifles for the camera appear to confirm this.

The men then climbed a hill, turned and pointed their rifles again; then, in high spirits, ran back down the hill, Capa running beside them, taking pictures. Reaching the gully, they again aimed, and perhaps fired, their rifles. The evidence from other images suggests that the fatal photograph was taken near the edge of the gully.

Significantly, a forensics expert consulted by Wheelan categorically asserts that Borrell was not running when he died. He "had been standing flat-footed when he was shot. He was clearly not in stride".

Capa's account, and the Vu caption, stated that the man had been shot as he ran down the hill.

Why should Capa have lied?

Perhaps for the same reason that he was so fortunately placed right next to Borrell, positioned to take the fatal photograph. If the militia had posed and fired for the camera, they would have attracted the attention of the rebel forces.

As Borrell stood to pose for Capa, he was cut down by a rebel bullet.

Was the secret that so tortured Capa the knowledge that without his intervention, Borrell might not have been shot?

Ever since the camera went to war, photographers have staged scenes, rearranged bodies and had events re-enacted for the camera and we look at them in two states of mind - open to their impact as authentic images, and aware that to perceive the camera as a neutral observer is naive.

Capa will always be regarded as a great photographer despite the known episodes of fakery, and many curators and critics regard this pre-digital age interrogation of the relationship between photographer and subject as irrelevant.

What matters, they argue, is the impact of the image, not what they see as spurious questions of authenticity.

But as the story of Capa's iconic photograph shows, discredited images lose their impact. If the story is not what we are invited to believe, we are entitled to resist its effects.

If Capa's actions that day did contribute to the death of Borrell, the photograph is telling a radically different and shocking story.

Truth and authenticity are not only artistic criteria. They are moral judgments too.

Below sharp, wonderfully composed, but all the wrong body language for the Death of a Loyalist, though perfect for the Death of a Cheap Actor.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The Dying Bugler's Last Call - A Battlefield Incident, Gras Pan - 1900 (Our #1)
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Paris, ON
Above & Below another couple of Boer War action photographs that are nice and sharp, well focused, and exposed. They seem to have much more in common with Capa's Death of a Loyalist than his D-Day photograph above. But then these were carefully posed with big cameras in safe locations to make them look good.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The Dying Bugler's Last Call - A Battlefield Incident, Gras Pan - 1899 (Our #2)
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - London, ON
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Near Modder River
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Kingston, ON
Poor Action Photo - Closer to the action than the vast majority of Boer War photos. But - rifles are lying on the ground; the men are looking around or down. And the photographer high above them all. You can be sure no Boer snipers are in the county... Poor candidate for action photo of the year..

FAKE! FAKE! FAKE!

During the Boer War people wanted action pictures at home, especially ones showing the pathos of war.

Though there were more cameras at this war, by far, than any previous war in history, and thousands of images were exposed, it is virtually impossible to find one that shows real action on the front lines.

Right is not one of them. Nor the the one below

Fright - The reason is simple. The Boers were phenomenal shots and their Mauser rifles could pick off anyone making himself available a mile away. No photographer was being paid enough to stand up there in the midst of the fighting men and compose a picture with a camera in his hand.

Which is why Lt. James Cooper Mason's photo taken at Paardeberg is such an amazing achievement. It stands alone, and tall, in a welter of mediocre war photography.

Since it was impossible to get action shots for real - few men were willing, like James Mason, to stick out their necks with a camera while the Boers were firing - so these were faked.

The Dying Bugler - Among the most famous are the supposed Dying Bugler pair of stereoscopes that we feature here.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

On the March
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Chatham, ON
Poor Action Photo - This is what passes for an action photo during the Boer War - men marching. They are packed close together, their rifles leisurely perched, while transport wagons trundle peacefully along the horizon. One thing sure - no Boers within a 100 miles...

These are not candid, off-the-cuff photos, shot by an out-of-breath photographer worried about a good action shot that may disappear. In fact these photos were made with a tripod-mounted camera. The camera point of view is precisely the same in both views with the photographer not moving an inch between photos.

Had only one exposure been made the photographer and publisher might have been able to carry off the deceit. In fact many people today mistakenly think these were taken during a real action. The myth persists because few people have ever seen both, made by the same photographer, standing in exactly the same spot, only moments apart.

The pictures feature five bodies - one the presumably dying bugler and four corpses, obviously recently deceased. We can buy that the dead would still lie there when the photographer arrives. We cannot buy that the photographer would have got to the spot ahead of the stretcher bearers to take wounded to the hospital.

So these are definitely supposed to be "dead" bodies.

Unfortunately for the photographer and the veracity of the picture, ALL the corpses have moved in the short time lapse between the pictures. In fact the only who has moved least is the dying bugler himself. The others, bored with being fringe players, tried to make themselves more comfortable by moving heads, hands, arms, and legs to new positions.

Below the corpse has completely repositioned the helmet and also brought both arms in to a more comfortable position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Below the corpse has lifted its elbow - probably to scratch an annoying itch just when the shutter went - creating a new shadow, and also moved its foot further forward and off the rock. Remember, cameras don't lie; only photographers do...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The middle corpse has moved its hand closer to the Michael Jackson position.

The top corpse has further drooped its head.


Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

In Camp
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Port Hope, ON

Poor Action Photo - Photos shot in camps - obviously far from Boers and danger - account for the vast majority of Boer War photographs, especially the commercially produced and sold pictures issued as stereo views.

These commercial photographers wanted a peaceful place to set up a tripod - like for the Dying Bugler - so their images would be sharp, steady, and well exposed. Hard to do when bullets are whizzing around your head. Besides, no one could pay me enough on a sober day.


Of course the photographer might have moved the corpses himself. Famed US Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner, did exactly that, moving corpses several hundred yards to get better compositions. But that is clearly not the case here with the movements serving no further photographic purpose.

Now, do you believe this bugler is dying?

Notice how a second photo can spoil the effect and fantasy of what looks like a first class effort in the first one.

Clearly, photographers should destroy their seconds and keep only the best. It makes for a much better, believable story.

As Robert Capa found out when someone noticed a duplicate picture of another dying loyalist shot in the exact same place, the same background, the same grass in both photos. Now how likely is that to happen in real life?

The supposed dead body does not show up in other pictures. There are no records of anyone else, than Garcia, dying there that day.

Which all goes to show - it's better to destroy compromising evidence when you're trying to make a photo op set-up look like the real thing.

Which may also explain why those who've gone to search for the negatives,.of Capa's work on the day he shot the Loyalist, or more accurately, got the Loyalist shot - to try to establish details in the action pictures, etc. - have found them missing.

When you've got dupes kicking around of what are supposedly real "one-ofs" it could ruin a reputation. In fact one of those dupes turned up, apparently slipping through the cover up.

Above a real action shot of an army. Hurry up and wait. These men refused to take part in the tomfoolery for the photographer.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

An Incident
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Napanee, ON
Poor Action Photo - When everything is beautifully composed, the men wonderfully placed, the image well exposed, and sharp, suspect a camera on a tripod, and a photographer not scared - like the men appear to be - of being shot by Boers.
Fake Dead - Duplicate, almost simultaneously exposed, stereo photos of this view shows that the corpse, after he died here, readjusted himself between takes, actually lifting himself into a more comfortable dead position. We know this because his helmet cover which was elevated in the first picture and therefore propped up at first, finally fell down because of gravity. Other actors moving forward also confirms the sequence of the photos.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Getting Water in Camp
Orig. Stereoview - Size - 9 x 18 cm
Found - Napanee, ON

Real Action Photo - Nothing phony here. These men are not posed. They really are lining up and scooping water from buckets brought up from the local slough.

This, like all the other stereoviews featured here, was the typical "war photography" done by Boer War commercial photographers. To them it was a job. No need to get killed at the battle front when there were so many great camping shots to get, far from any danger.

Some of these were war correspondents, doing photography as a sideline. But mostly they hung around with command headquarters which, during battles, was well behind the lines of lethal fire. None of them marched into battle with generals who commanded attacking columns like Wauchope, Woodgate, or Hart. Too dangerous. Correspondents were unanimous, no photo is worth that risk.

Another Boer War faked stereo view action picture, complete with corpses draped over rocks.

Looks exciting but it's bad theatre at best. Everyone eager to do his part...

Notice how the men in back are shooting their mates in the back. One man in the middle ground left, is aiming at the heights were at least two British soldier clearly see no danger from Boers. Perhaps he's fragging an unpopular officer. And why are the men below holding back and acting aggressively when the enemy has long gone.

Theatre, that's why. Bad theatre.

So far from being good examples of war photography these images are worse and less authentic than the fuzziest camp shot of a camp cook peeling potatoes in a tent.

Those are real people doing real Boer War things.

These guys are just taking part in a bad school play.

All for a photographer on contract hoping to win fame and fortune.

Well at least no one is in danger of dying during this photo shoot...

Right another genuine Boer War action picture, getting water...

It makes one realize how utterly rare, and brave, was the accomplishment by Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, in taking his real action photo, while under heavy Boer fire, during the most vicious battle of the Boer War.

He showed the same courage in the battle that followed until he was shot through the shoulders and lungs. For his exemplary conduct in the field, Lord Roberts, the British Commander-in-Chief, who came to visit him in his hospital tent at Paardeberg, recommended him for the Distinguished Service Order.

Go to Lord Roberts
Go to 100 Fake Combat Photos Exposed

 

 
 
 
 
 

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