Look Pretty Please by Harry Randall, Brigade Chief Photographer

August 18, 2018
By
Sergeant Harry W. Randall, Jr. Brigade Photographer, December 1937. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-0932. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Sergeant Harry W. Randall, Jr. Brigade Photographer, December 1937. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-0932. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Look Pretty Please by Harry Randall, Brigade Chief Photographer

The Volunteer for Liberty, V.2, No. 32, September 17, 1938

 

When the photographic section of the XVth International Brigade Commissariat was established, its tasks were seen as threefold: first, to make a photographic record of the XVth Brigade –where we have been, what we have done and who has done it –second, to make pictures for our press “The Volunteer for Liberty,” and third, to make pictures for use abroad, in England, the United States and Canada –to aid in developing support for the Loyalist struggle against fascism, and for the International Volunteers.

The first two of these tasks have been fulfilled, within the limitations imposed by a permanent scarcity of film and photographic paper, and the difficulties of working under war conditions. Running water and a more or less dependable supply of electricity are indispensable. But as we all know, our Brigade is a very mobile unit, and our laboratory has to be prepared to move –like our soldiers –at a moment’s notice. This proves somewhat inconvenient when we have a batch of developed films, which require four to eighteen hours to dry depending on weather conditions. You have to make the best of it.

Slightly irrelevant to strictly photographic matters –but important to the photographers –is the fact that we are frequently located in a town some distance from any other Brigade unit. Where and what to eat then becomes a problem. It has happened that every day one or another of us would have to hitchhike to the intendencia for rations. Which meant that much less time for working in the lab and lab work never seems to be finished. But the generous hospitality of the Spanish people has on occasions, solved this problem for us. They have prepared many tasty meals with our rations, often adding greens from their own gardens and usually refusing any pay for their work. When the time has come for us to leave for another position, those families have frequently prepared farewell dinners for us, dinners which represented the best of Spanish cooking.

During the past three months our position has been somewhat more settled and our problems have been more easily solved. Our lab is established with the Auto Park garage, and although the comrades who keep the Brigade’s camions rolling are a hard-working gang, they have given us their whole-hearted cooperation.

A large selection of our historical pictures are being used, at the moment in a photographic album which the Commissariat is now preparing. It should go to press within the next three weeks. But it has frequently happened that the pictures used in “The Volunteer” have not been the most suitable. Direct contact with the paper is hard to establish, and all copy messages and pictures must travel a slow and roundabout route, which makes it impossible to rush pictures to the press. Contact between the front lines and the laboratory alone is slow enough so “In at one, out at five they’re done” certainly doesn’t apply here.

Our greatest handicap, at all times, has been the lack of film and printing paper. At one time those supplies could be purchased in small quantities but at the present time this material cannot be found in Spain, and repeated attempts to get supplies from abroad have met with complete failure. This shortage, has therefore, made it impossible to make any decent amount of pictures for use abroad. In addition, a great tangle of red tape must be disentangled before it becomes possible to safely transport pictures for our comrades in the Brigade, even when it has been apparent that the pictures requested could be of immense publicity value abroad. Those pictures which have sold to individuals have for the most part, been extra copies which were no longer needed for the purposes for which they were originally made.

Of the two photographers who take pictures for the Brigade, at least one is always with the Brigade itself, and whenever possible both are at the front when we are in action. The finest set of action pictures we have ever had were taken by Tony Drossel when we captured Quinto and Belchite.

But unfortunately, the best part of these negatives were lost by a comrade who “borrowed” them in order to have copies made in Valencia. Ever since this tragic experience, we have guarded our negatives like a treasure trove.

We have a fine set of photographs of the Brigade at Teruel and its surrounding regions. Our best camera and all the photos taken at Belchite, Albalate and Hijar during the retreats in March were lost at Alcañiz when the Fascists took that town. During the rest of the retreat Comrade Katine and I were without film, and were naturally, cut off from our base of supplies. We found ourselves accordingly, acting as runners, ammunition carriers, guards, observers –anything that was needed during those chaotic days. Comrade Oderaka and Drossel managed to save our most important laboratory equipment, and they brought all our files and records through to safety.

In the period of reorganization and training that preceded our crossing of the Ebro, we were busy snapping pictures of training schools, delegations, fiestas, activists, meeting, classes, congresses, etc. Then the moment came when we prepared to attack, Ben Katine took a fine set of pictures of our comrades crossing the river in boats and rafts, of the building of the first foot bridges and the first groups of our soldiers to walk across it to the west bank of the Ebro, ours once more. We went ahead with our troops as we advanced and later made pictures of the ruins of towns bombed by the Fascist planes. And when I caught up to the lines, we made pictures of our comrades in the lines during the fighting –machine-gunners, riflemen, the evacuation of wounded. The Mac-Paps were somewhat neglected during the second phase, so that each Battalion now has a record of its contribution to the heroic Ebro offensive of the Spanish People’s Army.

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