May 7, 2009 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography

The International Center of Photography has digitized thousands of previously unseen Spanish Civil War photos by legendary photojournalists Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, and Gerda Taro.

The preservation effort was one of the final projects of Cornell Capa, Robert’s brother and the founder of ICP, who died in 2008. Also instrumental in getting the negatives into the hands of ICP was Richard Whelan, a Capa biographer who died in 2007.

The three cardboard boxes of negatives—nicknamed the “Mexican Suitcase”—contained some 4,300 frames. Researchers attributed about a third of the pictures to each photographer. Additionally, there were two rolls of portraits of Capa and Taro attributed to photographer Fred Stein.

Through a chain of sometimes murky transactions, the Mexican Suitcase photos made their way from Capa’s Paris studio (where Capa left them when he fled the city in 1939) into the hands of Mexican filmmaker Benjamin Tarver in the 1990s. ICP managed to obtain the negatives in December 2007. ICP says no money changed hands.

The collection is not an exhaustive archive of the trio’s Spanish Civil War coverage, and does not contain any negatives of Capa’s “Falling Soldier,” among his most famous images, and the subject of a long-running debate over whether it was staged.

However, the work is providing historians with insights into how the photographers worked and where they traveled.Capa and Chim were founding members of Magnum Photos. The Spanish Civil War was a defining moment in photojournalism, and these three photographers earned their reputations by venturing close to the front lines. All three of the photographers were eventually killed in action. Taro, Robert Capa’s partner, died in 1937 after being struck by a tank in Spain. Robert Capa was killed by a landmine in Southeast Asia in 1954. Chim was killed by Egyptian machine gunners in 1956 covering the Suez crisis.