Robert Capa photographs can best be summed up by quoting him directly: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough".
The New York Times reported early in 2008 that thousands of Robert Capa photographs had been found in a suitcase, previously considered lost by historians and archivists of photography. The contents include negativesof Robert Capa's photos taken during the Spanish Civil War, bringing to life once again the importance of his life and work.
Like so many of his artistic and intellectual peers, Capa, who eventually became a United States citizen was, in reality, a citizen of the world. Being born Jewish and upper-middle class in Hungary in 1913 stacked the deck against a life of normalcy for the intellectually precocious. By the time he was a teenager, the cultural rifts and political instability of the Weimar Republic in Germany had spilled over the Rhine.
When the Friedman family's store went under in 1929, they resorted to taking
in boarders for income and sleeping the whole family in one room. The notable
exception here was "Andrei," as he was first named, who slept naked in a public
room in the house. He was not really "at home," nor would he ever be. His
alliance with causes political and intellectual rather than with birth ties
prefigured his much-cited code: If the pictures aren't good enough,
you aren't close enough. And he would never be close to his roots, instead
finding self-expression in photographing five wars during his brief life.
He first became famous during the Spanish Civil War for Death of a Loyalist
Soldier published in Life in 1936. The picture captures the very moment at which a Spanish Loyalist soldier is shot and just beginning to fall backward to the ground.
As with many of his pictures, the falling soldier has a universal look -
it could be a soldier falling in any war that Capa had covered in his lifetime.
His coverage of the fighting in Spain was dramatic because of its immediacy.
In 1938, Picture Post devoted 11 pages to Robert Capa photographs of the Spanish Civil war. He was dubbed by the publication "The Greatest War Photographer in the World."
He was the first embedded photographer to photograph the landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Even though many of the hard won images he made that day were blurred by the carelessness of an assistant developing them, they were a success. Capa merely explained the blur as his hands shaking from fear. In fact, Capa had seen and would see more war than most of the soldiers who landed on the Beach that day. He started photographing while in the water, en route to the shore. He ran ahead of the pack to look back and photograph soldiers just emerging from the sea or swimming towards land.
As well as the Spanish Civil War, Robert Capa photographs include images of World War II; the D-Day landing; the Japanese bombing of Hankou; the liberation of Paris; the Battle of the Bulge; and the French in Viet Nam before American participation in the war. Despite his war record, there are few if any shots of dismemberment or the true brutality of war. He documented the role of the soldier. And he made pictures to explain why war was sometimes necessary. He did not glamorise it.
The photo to the left is of the kind that Capa took to humanize war. The woman carrying the baby had just undergone a humiliating public head shaving because she was considered to have comforted a member of the Allied forces. The baby was proof. She is escorted past the crowd, some gawking with glee, some fearing for themselves, some merely children, by a Nazi soldier. Unlike the work of many other Moderns, there is no attempt to study the situation as it occurred. It was another of Robert Capa's moments.
Robert Capa, between war assignments, globe-trotted to meet friends such as
Pablo Picasso (whose monumental painting Guernica became an iconic anti-war emblem);
the loves of his life, including Ingrid Bergman and photographer Gerda Taro. While with Bergman, he worked in Hollywood writing his memoirs for a screenplay.
Although his relationship with Bergman lasted for two years, Robert Capa established one of the strongest bonds in his life with fellow photographer Gerda Taro.
Taro had photographed the Spanish Civil War alongside Capa and, as Randy Kennedy in an article for the New York Times points out, there are numerous photographs from
the Spanish front that are credited jointly to Capa and Taro.
It was in mid-1930s Paris that Robert Capa
and German-born Gerda Taro lived together in Paris looking out of their appartment to a view of the Eiffel tower.
Taro had been instrumental in making over the image of the young Hungarian André Friedman. She helped manufacture the image of a wealthy, charismatic, and important American photographer - Robert Capa - and sold it.
Gerda Taro had much in common with Robert Capa: she had been involved in leftist politics; and she, too, had changed her name to a shorter, more "American" sounding last name.
More importantly, she remained behind in Spain to work after Capa had left the front and was killed by a tank at age 26. Robert Capa read about the loss of his friend, lover,
and partner in a French newspaper. While he would love again, he would never again find one with whom he shared so much. Capa, who had photographed suffering and loss, felt
as if part of himself had died with Taro.
In 1954 he took an assignment for Life in Hanoi, photographing the
French-Indochina war. Crossing a rice paddy, he died stepping on a landmine.
He had come, to use his own words, "close enough." Capa was found with two
cameras on his person, one loaded with color film, the other with
black-and-white. He is survived by those photographs and by the photo agency
Magnum which he helped found in 1947.
Click on the link to see a selection of Robert Capa photographs.