Born: Endre Friedmann – October 22, 1913 | Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died: May 25, 1954 | Thai Binh, State of Vietnam
Robert Capa was a significant photojournalist and a founder of Magnum Photos, an international cooperative of photojournalists. Capa’s images are now iconic for associations of the Spanish Civil War and famously Omaha beach showing the invasion of the American troops during D Day.
Robert Capa was born Endre Friedmann in 1913. Growing up in Budapest, he realized that the war-torn Hungary offered little future for his career as a photographer. He left home at the age of 18.
Capa’s younger years consisted of a series of exiles. After beginning to work as a photographer in Berlin, he fled to France during the rise of Nazism as being jewish was beginning to cost him work. Around this time, he and his girlfriend Gerda Pohorylle created a fictional persona of a great American photographer named Robert Capa. They both shot images under this pseudonym in the beginning until Endre Friedmann ultimately took the name as his own.
The name Capa had dual significance of being a translation of the Hungarian word “Shark” which was Endre’s nickname and also gave nod to the film director Robert Capra.
Gerda changed her name as well. She chose the last name Taro as a nod to both Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto and Swedish actress Greta Garbo.
Robert Capa’s first published photographs in 1933 were a series of images of an intense Leon Trotsky speaking on “The Meaning of the Russian Revolution” in Copenhagen.
In 1936, Capa began work in Spain with Gerda Taro and partner David Seymour to cover the Spanish Civil War selling images to news outlets. It was in 1936 that Capa reached world-wide fame with his “Falling Soldier” photograph which quickly became a controversial, but iconic image of war. Over the years the authenticity of this image has been challenged. The soldiers identity, whether he was being shot or just stumbling in the image and even whether Robert or Gerda actually took the image – these have all been brought into question. However little of that matters as this is a powerful image that intensly shows the human involvement in war and the brutal political climate leading into World War II.
On July 25, 1937, Gerda Taro was covering the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete. She was riding on the footboard of an ambulance when a Republican Tank crashed into the vehicle. She suffered critical wounds and died the next day.
Capa was devastated by the news. The two were reported to be engaged.
By the start of World War II, Capa was living in New York City again having fled France to escape jewish persecution. Working for Life magazine he had transcended cultures as the only “enemy alien” photographer for the allies. Capa was embedded with the American troops photographing the war most notably in Sicily and Naples.
On June 6, 1944 Capa took part in the D Day invasion at Omaha Beach. He was embedded with the second assault wave of American troops to storm the beach. While under constant fire, Capa took 106 pictures of the battle with 2 Contax cameras using 50mm lenses and several rolls of film in the first 2 hours of the invasion.
Capa quickly returned these to England where the Life Magazine London office was waiting to process them. During processing, a staff member had the temperature of the film dryer set too high and melted the emulsion in the negatives on three complete rolls and most of the fourth roll. The remaining photographs are referred to as the Magnificent Eleven.
The images have a surreal, grainy texture to them adding to the intensity of the battle. Life printed the frames in the magazine issue “Beaches of Normandy: The Fateful Battle for Europe is Joined by Sea and Air”. Several of the images had captions saying the photographers hands were trembling making the images “slightly out of focus”. Capa later used this phrase for his autobiography, Slightly Out of Focus.
After the war, Capa traveled with American writer John Steinbeck through Kiev and Moscow and the ruins of Stalingrad. The photos were used in Steinbeck’s book A Russian Journal.
In 1947 he founded Magnum Photos in Paris; a cooperative venture with Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert, David Seymour, and George Rodger. He became president of Magma in 1952.
Though saying he was done photographing war, he traveled to Japan for a Magnum exhibition in the early 1950’s. Life Magazine talked him into going on an assignment to cover Southeast Asia where the French had been fighting in the First Indochina War.
On May 25, 1954, Capa stepped on a land mine while photographing an advance. He died on the way to a small field hospital.
Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection
Robert Capa: The Paris Years 1933-54
Capa in Color
Slightly Out of Focus (Modern Library War) http://amzn.to/1FmDed5
Magnum Contact Sheets