The Interpretation of a Photograph - Robert Capa (1937)


The picture by ROBERT CAPA shows a girl who is resting on a pile of bags that are placed on the ground. She is sitting on one bag and is leaning against another resting her head on it. Under her head there is a dark blanket which serves as a pillow. Both the girl and the bags on which she is sitting are in the foreground and the centre of the picture. The girl is wearing a loose dark coat or jacket with a black collar, black sandals and white socks. Her posture and facial expression betray tiredness and exhaustion. It looks as if she might fall asleep at any minute. But she is awake. With a tired and serious expression on her face she takes notice of everything around her. In the background there are more pieces of luggage, and in front of the girl there is something tied into a bundle and an empty bottle. There are no other people in the photograph.

Formal aspects

The whole image is presented in vertical format. The photographer used a medium shot – one that isn't wide enough to show the overall setting but tight enough to focus on the most interesting elements within the scene. Thus, the figure of the girl is framed evenly on all sides, which creates a sense of balance in the picture. As far as the choice of focus is concerned, the main object – the girl sitting on the bags – is in focus, i.e. is sharp, while the elements in the background are out of focus. Both choice of frame and focus help to direct the viewer's attention to the main object.

  • Additional elements that illustrate or explain the scene – such as the luggage in the background – are presented in an inconspicuous way, i.e. in a way that they will be noticed by the viewer but will not direct his attention away from the main object.
  • Another interesting formal aspect is the use of light. In the rather dark scene a ray of light seems to fall directly on the girl's face. Illuminated in such a way, her face forms a light contrast to her dark eyes, hair and her dark coat. This contrast catches the viewer's eye and makes him aware of the expression on the girl's face.
  • The point of view used to take this picture seems to be one that is a bit above eye level – as if some grown up person who is standing next to the girl is looking (down) at her. This emphasizes that the girl is actually resting close to the ground and underlines the fact that she's still a child, small and fragile.


The main idea expressed in the picture is that of rest, which is mainly conveyed by the girl's posture. But the picture doesn't tell us much about the circumstances of the rest. Thus, we are invited to speculate about that:

  • Is it a street scene or is the girl in a train station?
  • Is she on a journey?
  • Is she on her own or with someone else – maybe some parent or relative?
  • Is she resting there because she is waiting for someone or something or because she is too exhausted to continue her way?

There are some elements in the picture that seem to support the idea of the girl being on a journey: the piles of baggage could be an indicator for her waiting in a train station. The amount of baggage also suggest that she might be moving from one place to another taking along all her belongings – like a refugee in times of war.

As a key to understanding the picture one might also turn to the life and work of the photographer: ROBERT CAPA (1913–1954) was one of the most famous representatives of documentary photography in his time, working mainly as a war correspondent. CAPA's photographs demonstrated what it meant for both soldiers and civilians to struggle and survive in times of war. A great number of photos were taken during the Spanish Civil War, the picture discussed above being one example. His Civil War pictures have become impressive testimonies of the feelings and sufferings of the Spanish people and, at the same time, a manifesto against war, opression and injustice. Viewing the picture of the girl in this context, we might come to understand that the situation depicted is exemplary in the sense that it illustrates how war involves everybody – even the innocent, and that it shows what war does to people: it exhausts them, isolates them from their families and forces them away from places they call their homes.

Stand: 2010
Dieser Text befindet sich in redaktioneller Bearbeitung.

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