Born Andre Friedman, October 22, 1913, in Budapest, Hungary; immigrated to the United States, 1939, naturalized citizen, 1946; died of wounds from a land mine, May 25, 1954, in Thai-Binh, Vietnam. Education: Studied at Deutsche Hochschule für Politik (Berlin, Germany), 1931-33.
Deutscher Photodienst (Dephot), Berlin, Germany, darkroom assistant, 1931-33; Alliance Photo, Paris, France, photographer, 1933-36; freelance photographer, covering Spanish Civil War and Japanese invasion of China, 1936-38; Collier's and Life magazines, correspondent in Europe, 1939-45; Magnum Photos, cofounder, 1947, president 1951-54. Exhibitions: Works exhibited in retrospectives at London, England, 1998; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain, 1999; and Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, Berlin, Germany, 2005.
War Cross with Palms, from French Army; Robert Capa Medal Award established in his honor, 1955.
Death in the Making, text by G. Taro, Covici Friede (New York, NY), 1937.
The Battle of Waterloo Road, text by Diana Forbes-Robertson, Random House (New York, NY), 1943.
Slightly out of Focus (autobiography), Holt (New York, NY), 1947.
The Russian Journal, text by John Steinbeck, New York Herald Tribune Syndicate (New York, NY), 1948.
Report on Israel, text by Irving Shaw, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1950.
Images of War, Grossman Publishers (New York, NY), 1964.
Robert Capa, Photographs, edited by Cornell Capa and Richard Whelan, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Children of War, Children of Peace, edited by Cornell Capa and Richard Whelan, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.
Heart of Spain: Robert Capa's Photographs of the Spanish Civil War: From the Collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, text by P. F. Aizpura, Richard Whelan, and Catherine Coleman, Aperture Foundation (Denville, NJ), 1999.
Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection, edited and text by Richard Whelan, Phaidon (London, England), 2001.
Contributed photographs to magazines and newspapers worldwide, including Vu, Regards, Ce Soir, Weekly Illustrated, Collier's, and Life.
Superlatives are most often used when referring to the photographic work of Robert Capa. A critic for Publishers Weekly, reviewing a collection of the late photographer's work, called Capa "one of the great photographers of our time," and praised his war photography as "icons of the horrors and futility of war." James Boylan, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, credited Capa with producing "some of the [twentieth-]century's most memorable images," while Maryann Bird noted in Time International that Capa "set the prevailing standard for war photographers." Variety reviewer Joe Leydon dubbed him "arguably the greatest, bravest and most influential war photographer of the 20th century," and Michael Rechtshaffen wrote in Hollywood Reporter that Capa stands as the "father of modern photojournalism."
Such praise began early in Capa's career, when he was in his early twenties and covering the civil war then waging in Spain. His most famous image, Falling Soldier, which depicts a loyalist soldier captured on film at the exact moment he was shot and tumbling over on a lonely, dry hillside, caught the world's eye, and prompted Capa's employer, England's Picture Post, to call the young photographer "the greatest war photographer in the world." As David Thomson noted in New Republic, "Beyond any dispute, [Capa] was brave, reckless, and led by an instinct for those split seconds when the dawn was enough to get an exposure and the explosions were so spaced that a photographer might just survive."
Capa made his fame as a war photographer, but he was no friend of war. A life-long pacifist, he dreamed of the day when his business card might read, "Robert Capa, War Photographer, Unemployed." Such was surely not the case in his lifetime, however, and he was present to cover five major conflicts, from Spain to China to World War II's Omaha Beach to Israel and Indochina, as Vietnam was then called. His brief and productive life ended in the last-named nation in 1954, when he stepped on a land mine. While the photographer was killed, his Nikon camera miraculously survived the blast, giving the world the last few images he captured on film. Age forty at the time of his death, Capa shot over 70,000 images during his short career.
Life as Andre
Born Andre or Endre Friedman in 1913 in Budapest, Austro-Hungary (now Hungary), the future photographer was already distinctive at birth: he had an extra little finger on his left hand. His father, a tailor and a gambler, is credited as the source of young Andre's taste for clothes and risk-taking. Capa came of age in a greatly diminished Hungary then under the dictatorship of Nicolas Horthy; in the country both Jews and radicals were targeted for attack, and Capa fit both these profiles. By the time he was a teenager, he was involved in leftist political activities. Arrested by the secret police at age eighteen, he decided to leave Hungary upon his release.
Weimar Germany seemed a good move for Capa at the time, and in 1931, he relocated to Berlin, studying political science at the university. As Caroline Moorehead noted in the London Spectator, "The very early 1930s were a good time to be young in Berlin, if you were interested in the arts, theatre, film." Capa's sister, Eva Friedman, had preceded her brother to Berlin and she also preceded him in photography. From her, he learned to love the art of photography, carrying a Leica with him wherever he went. Soon he took a part-time job as a darkroom lab assistant for Deutscher Photodienst, where he learned some of the technical side of photography.
Capa was lucky to come into photography just as technological advances were making photojournalism possible. First was the 1926 invention of the telegraphic picture transmitter, and then came lighter-weight, more portable cameras, such as the Leica, with faster speeds that enabled candid and rapid shots to be taken. Capra became adept at the use of such cameras and was soon not just processing film, but shooting it, as with his 1932 photo of Leon Trotsky, taken as the Russian leader addressed a meeting in Copenhagen. As Thomson noted, the young Capa "was plainly born for those decisive moments when the inner life lay naked on human surfaces. He nearly always shot people, the creatures of crisis, participants oblivious of the camera because there was a more pressing threat in their orbitm—the animosity of others, bullets, an unfriendly shore." Another early shot, from 1932, shows a street battle between Communists and Nazis.
With the coming to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in 1933, the young man born Andre Friedman said good-bye to Germany. He settled for a time in Vienna, then moved on to one of the last outposts of sanity in Europe at the time: Paris.
The Birth of Robert Capa
It was in Paris that Friedman met veteran journalist and photographer Gerda Pohorylles, a German exile who shared the young Hungarian's leftist sympathies. In addition to beginning a romantic relationship, the two photographers teamed up on stories placed in the illustrated magazines of the day, and soon changed their names to Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, respectively. In Hungarian, "Capa" means shark; the photographer Capa hunted his photographic quarry with the tenacity of that predator. The name change was for economic reasons: Gerda discovered that she could ask double or triple the going rate for photographs if they were from a supposedly rich American named Robert Capa and not from a poor Hungarian exile named Andre Friedman. Working together, Taro usually supplied the text and Capa the photographs. Soon they traveled to Spain, where the civil war was raging and providing material for journalists from around the world.
In Spain, in September of 1936, Capa shot the moving Falling Soldier, of the loyalist soldier Frederico Borrell García, depicting the moment of the man's death during the battle at Cerro Muriano. Reprinted in magazines in Europe and the United States, the photo made Capa's career and turned Capa and Taro into heroes of the left. Interestingly, a debate has raged about the photo ever since. Some critics claim it was staged, much as Robert Doisneau's famous photo, The Kiss, was later found to have been far from spontaneous. Real or staged, the photo became the symbol of the Spanish Civil War and was used by the Republican side in its propaganda and fund-raising ventures.
Capa's fame was bittersweet, however; he lost his first real love during the war in Spain, when Taro was killed when a tank side-swiped a car she was in. Not with her at the time, Capa blamed himself for her death, and for a time spoke of giving up photography. In the end, however, he continued with his career, making it the center of his life. He spent two more years in Spain and dedicated his first book, Death in the Making, to Taro. Then he traveled to Asia to cover the Japanese invasion of China in 1938. By this time Capa worked according to a simple dictum: "If you're photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."
One War Too Many
From China, Capa immigrated to the United States in 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, however, he found himself on the move again, working first for Collier's and then for Life magazine as a correspondent. He traveled with the invasion convoy to North Africa in 1942, jumped into Sicily with the paratroops in 1943, and landed on Omaha Beach with the soldiers of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Risking his life, he shot three rolls of film of that deadly landing; back in London, a hasty lab technician melted the emulsion on most of the negatives. Fewer than a dozen shots were salvaged, and these were mostly blurry. However, this soft-focus effect enhanced the sense of action and chaos in the pictures, and they became, as had his earlier picture Falling Soldier, symbols of the infamous military encounter.
After World War II, Capa found himself at loose ends for a time, so he traveled with writer John Steinbeck to Russia in 1947 and produced photographs for Steinbeck's The Russian Journal. Another book was produced with writer Irwin Shaw following their 1949 trip to witness the birth of Israel and the resulting bloodshed; Report on Israel appeared in 1950.
In 1947, together with friends and fellow photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, and William Vandivert, Capa helped found Magnum Photos, the first photographic agency. Prompted in part by Capa's need to finance his champagne tastes, Magnum quickly became the premier photo agency in the world. In 1951, Capa became president of Magnum, thus donning another hat for a time: that of international businessman.
War was just one of Capa's subjects. He was also a portraitist, and shot definitive photos of friends such as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. He also took photographs of stars, including Ingrid Bergman, with whom he had an affair. As Allison Adato noted in Life, "Capa was a war photographer, but he was also a man who liked making pictures of beautiful women, famous men and grand parties. Often overlooked when discussing the Capa legacy, these, too, were his life's work." Pictures of children were also part of the oeuvre, as demonstrated by the posthumous work published in book form as Children of War, Children of Peace, which contains pictures both "powerful and unsentimental," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Whether Capa's work is journalism or art is another point often discussed by critics. Capa himself opted for the title photojournalist, eschewing the title of artist. Roger Rosenblatt, writing in the New Republiclic, noted that Capa's work is "at once arresting and unstudied." Unlike other photographers, such as Cartier-Bresson, Capa "did not frame and balance his subjects." Instead, Rosenblatt explained, "What he saw he photographed. . . . His mind was the artist." Writing in Grove Art Online, Reinhold Misselbeck noted that "a common feature [in Capa's photographs] is that the narrative moment does not predominate; they are imbued with humanity but also bear witness to Capa's fascination with the human tight-rope walk between the will to live and the tendency to self-destruction."
Indeed, Capa had an instinct for a good shot, a moving image. This instinct seemed to fail him, however, when he covered one war too many. While in Japan during 1954, he was asked by another journalist to fill in and cover the French conflict in Indochina. On May 25, 1954, while near the village of Thai-Binh, he stepped on a land mine and was killed.
At his death Capa left behind a legacy of unpublished photos, and his brother Cornell Capa has helped to shepherd them into publication since his brother's untimely death. Known mainly as a war photographer, Capa created a body of work that, according to Misselbeck, is a "manifesto against war, injustice and oppression."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Hood, R. E., Twelve at War, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1967.
Kershaw, Alex, Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Robert Capa, 1913-1954, Grossman Publishers (New York, NY), 1974.
Robert Capa, introduction by Jean Lacouture, translated by Abigail Pollak, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Whelan, Richard, Robert Capa: A Biography, Knopf, (New York, NY), 1985.
Boston Review, April-May, 2005, Susie Linfield, "Robert Capa's Hope."
Columbia Journalism Review, January, 2000, James Boylan, review of Slightly out of Focus, p. 79.
Hollywood Reporter, March 20, 2003, Michael Rechtshaffen, review of Robert Capa: In Love and War, p. 34.
Life, March, 1997, Allison Adato, "The Double Life of a Legendary War Photographer," p. 98.
New Republic, October 21, 1985, Roger Rosenblatt, reviews of Robert Capra: Photographs, p. 31; August 18, 2003, David Thomson, "I Leica Danger," p. 31.
New Statesman, July 31, 1998, Charles Darwent, "Image Problem," p. 39.
Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2003, Hal Boedeker, review of Robert Capa: In Love and War.
People, September 23, 1991, Ralph Novak, review of Children of War, Children of Peace, p. 29; May 30, 1994, "A Photograph Made Ed Regan the Everyman of Omaha Beach,"p. 39.
PR Newswire, March 23, 2005, "Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin."
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1991, review of Children of War, Children of Peace, p. 57; August 19, 1996, review of Robert Capa: Photographs, p. 48.
Spectator, June 8, 2002, Caroline Moorehead, "Not at Peace," p. 49.
Variety, February 10, 2003, Joe Leydon, review of Robert Capa: In Love and War, p. 38.
World War II, July, 1999, Michael E. Haskew, "Photographer Robert Capa Risked His Life to Get Close to the Action at Omaha Beach on D-Day," p. 6.
Electric-Review.com, http://www.electric-review.com/ (January 6, 2004), Bunny Smedley, review of Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection.
Grove Art Online,http://www.groveart.com/ (May 13, 2005), Reinhold Misselbeck, "Capa, Robert [Friedman, Andre]."
Magnum Photos,http://www.magnumphotos.com/ (May 13, 2005), "Photographer Portfolio: Robert Capa."
If you enjoy the works of Robert Capa
If you enjoy the works of Robert Capa, you may also want to check out the following:
Howard Chapnick, Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism, 1994.
Russell Miller, Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History, 1999.
Ken Light, Witness in Our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers, 2000.
PBS Online,http://www.pbs.org/ (May 13, 2005), Richard Whelan, "Proving That Robert Capa's 'Falling Soldier' Is Genuine: A Detective Story."
Photo Seminars.com, http://www.photo-seminars.com/ (May 13, 2005), "Robert Capa (1913-1954)."
Robert Capa: In Love and War (video), PBS Television/Muse Film and Television, 2003.*
CAPA, ROBERT (1913–1954), U.S. photographer. The most famous war photographer of the 20th century, Capa, whose original name was Endre Erno Friedmann, was born in Budapest to Deszo Friedmann and Julianne Henrietta Berkovitz. Like many of his student friends, he was keenly involved in the political turmoil of the period, and at the age of 18 he decided to leave Hungary. He moved to Berlin, where he found work as a darkroom assistant at a prestigious photo agency, Dephot. In 1932, as Berlin was paralyzed by street fighting among Social Democrats, Nazis, and Communists, he was sent to Copenhagen to photograph Leon *Trotsky giving a speech to Danish students. The images were featured in a full-page layout in Der Welt Spiegel.
In 1933, as Hitler came to power, he moved to Paris, where he met the photographers David (Chim) *Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson. There, with his Polish fiancée, Gerda Taro, he struggled to establish himself as a freelance journalist. The story of that struggle is recounted in a classic magazine article by John Hersey, The Man Who Invented Himself. Andrei, as he was then known, and Gerda formed an association of three "people." Gerda was secretary and sales representative; Andrei was a darkroom worker. They were ostensibly employed by a rich, famous, talented and "highly successful American photographer named Robert Capa." Actually, Friedmann took the pictures, Gerda sold them, and the imaginary Capa got the credit. Their secret was soon uncovered by the editor of Vue, who was unconcerned. He sent the couple to Spain, where Capa became famous overnight for his stunning picture of a Loyalist soldier taken the moment he was shot and killed. He took other striking photographs during that war, including an action shot on a city street of frightened civilians looking anxiously up to the sky or running for shelter, sometimes so fast that the photographer had to blur the background to keep the runner in focus. Such images could not have been captured earlier, because photographers did not have cameras small enough and fast enough to record events as they happened. The Spanish Civil War was thus the first to be covered by modern photography, and Capa's derring-do up-close images, seen decades later, retain their brilliance. "If the photograph isn't good enough," he said later, summing up his philosophy, "you're not close enough."
Capa returned to Paris in 1937, leaving Gerda, the great love of his life, in Spain, where she was killed by an out-of-control Loyalist tank. Capa read about her death, at the age of 25, in L'Humanite. Grief-stricken, Capa went off to China, where he took a series of memorable pictures at the battle of Taierchwang, the only significant Chinese victory of the war with Japan. Returning to Europe, he covered the Spanish war until its end in 1939. During that period he took some of his most dramatic front-line photographs of the war. Picture Post devoted 11 pages to his photos and declared the 23-year-old "the greatest war photographer in the world." When World War ii broke out, Capa sailed for New York, where, despite being labeled an enemy alien, he got an assignment from Collier's magazine and in 1942 he joined the invasion convoy to North Africa, where he switched to the staff of Life magazine. Leaving Africa, he parachuted into Sicily with the Allied forces and went on to the attack on "the soft underbelly of the Axis" in the grim winter of 1943–44. In 1944 Capa was the only press photographer to go in with the first wave of infantry to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. Later he photographed the Battle of the Bulge, and the following year joined the 2nd Infantry Division as it fought its way across the Zeppelin Bridge. He saw the war through, actually photographing the death of one of the last Americans killed. In Paris, too, he met the actress In-grid Bergman. Their two-year romance was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window.
Capa, who became an American citizen after the war, joined Cartier-Bresson, Chim, William Vandivert, and George Rodger in founding the international photographers' agency Magnum Photos. He spent the next few years making Magnum successful, and photographing the good times with his artist friends, including Picasso, Hemingway, and Steinbeck, with whom he supplied the photographs for A Russian Journal. The creation of the State of Israel impressed Capa greatly, and in 1948 he went there for the founding of the state. "During the war for independence," his brother the photographer Cornell *Capa said, "Bob put his heart into it. His non-practicing Jewishness came out." He was with David *Marcus in the battle for the "Burma Road," Jerusalem's vital link to the outside world. Capa's photographs of Israel appeared in This Is Israel by the journalist I.F. *Stone in 1948 and the same year he was the co-author, with Irwin Shaw, of Report on Israel. "Warm and perceptive," a critic wrote in the New York Times, "Capa's camera has ranged over the faces of land and people, seeking the human qualities as well as historic milestones." Capa returned to Israel in 1950 to make a fund-raising film for the United Jewish Appeal on the arrival, interment, and eventual settlement of immigrants.
"I'm not a photographer," he often said. "I'm a journalist." Cornell Capa said that the 35-mm. camera was the ideal form of expression for his brother. "Who knows Hungarian?" he said. "Hungarians who want to communicate once they leave Hungary are sunk. The camera was a natural way to communicate, the perfect instrument that suited Bob's persona and his interest in people. He considered himself a photojournalist. He loved it when he wrote text with his pictures and his credit read, 'By Robert Capa, photographs by the author.' "
In 1954 Capa went to Japan with a Magnum exhibition. Life suddenly needed a photographer on the Indochina front, where the French were fighting the Vietnamese. Capa volunteered, but it was one war too many. He was killed after stepping on a land mine. He was 40 years old.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
One of the great war photographers, the photojournalist Robert Capa (1913-1954), born in Hungary, but a naturalized U.S. citizen, photographed the tumultuous 1930s and the wars that followed. After World War II he helped found Magnum Photos, an international photographic agency.
In a sense Robert Capa invented himself. The son of middle class Jewish parents, he was born Endre Friedmann in Budapest in what was then Austro-Hungary. He grew up under the dictatorship of Regent Nicholas Horthy but accepted the ideas of the artist Lajos Kassák, who spear-headed the avant garde movement in Hungary. Kassák's anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist, pro-labor, egalitarian, and pacifist beliefs influenced Capa the rest of his life. At age 18 Capa was arrested by the secret police for his political activities. He was released through the intervention of his father but was banished from Hungary.
Moving to Berlin in 1931, he worked as a darkroom assistant at Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst), the leading photo-journalist enterprise in Germany. This agency was distinguished by its use of the new small cameras and fast film that allowed photographers to capture fleeting gestures and to take pictures even in poor light. With these advances the photographer could focus on human events and move away from the carefully posed rows of diplomats that had characterized news photography until then. Capa soon mastered the new cameras and was occasionally sent out on small photographic assignments. In his first major break, he was sent to Copenhagen to photography Leon Trotsky. His photos of an impassioned Trotsky addressing the crowd captured Trotsky's charismatic oratorical style.
With Hitler's rise to power, Capa eventually moved to Paris. There he met Gerda Pohorylles, who called herself Gerda Taro, and fell in love with her. She wrote the text for his stories and acted as his agent. Taro found she could charge much more for a photo taken by a "rich American" photographer named Robert Capa than she could for the photographs of a poor Hungarian named Endre Friedmann. Thus the internationally known Robert Capa was born.
Capa and Taro were sent to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, where Capa took the picture that made him famous—a dying Loyalist soldier falling from the impact of a bullet. In July 1937 Taro was killed by a tank which sideswiped the car she had clambered onto in the retreat from Brunete. She was 26. Capa later dedicated his book Death in the Making, "to Gerda Taro, who spent one year at the Spanish front and who stayed on. R. C."
From 1941 to 1945 Capa photographed World War II in Europe as correspondent for Collier's and then Life magazine. On D-Day, 1944, he landed in the second wave on Omaha Beach. The soldiers, pinned down by unexpectedly heavy fire, sought shelter wherever they could. Capa, crouching with them, snapped pictures of the incoming troops. In London the lab assistant who was processing the films as quickly as possible turned up the heat in the print dryer and melted the emulsion on the negatives. The 11 that survived are slightly out of focus due to the melted emulsion, but the blurring adds to their effectiveness by conveying the confusion and danger.
After the war the photographer became what he always claimed he wanted to be—an unemployed war correspondent. He worked on a variety of projects, including a book about Russia with text by John Steinbeck. He returned to war photography briefly to cover the Israeli war of independence, 1948-1949.
In 1948 he had put into effect his long held dream of a cooperative photographic agency that would free photographers to concentrate on stories that interested them rather than spending their time scrounging assignments. The other founders of the Magnum Photo Agency were Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour ("Chim"), William Vandivert, and George Rodger. Capa's legacy, beyond his wonderful photographs, included his commitment to nurturing young photographers, for his help extended beyond mere teaching to ensuring that they had enough to eat and the freedom to work as they pleased. Though he was often short of cash himself, he was extremely generous in his support of others.
While on an assignment in Japan Capa was asked to fill in for a photographer covering the French Indochina War. He was killed when he stepped on a land mine on May 25, 1954, at Thai-Binh.
For Capa, war always had a human face. His photographs, a deeply moving account of the boredom, terror, and insanity of war, are characterized by a direct appeal to the emotions, the response of average people to events beyond their control. Close up photos of a few people express the emotional impact of the whole. And his pictures were inevitably of people; beautiful compositions of inanimate objects did not interest him unless they somehow expressed the human element, as for instance his photo of an airplane propeller used as a German pilot's tombstone. He was impassioned, and therefore his photos always had a certain bias, but it was a humane bias. He hated war, never glorified it, and never saw himself as heroic. Despite his saying, "If your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough," he never took chances unless the photo demanded it.
Robert Capa's photographs appear in Images of War (1964), The Concerned Photographer (1968), and Israel/ The Reality (1969). The latter two were edited by his brother, Cornell Capa. Robert Capa published several books, including an autobiography, Slightly Out of Focus (1947), and a book of photographs for which he wrote the text, Death in the Making (1937). These texts should be taken with a grain of salt as a good story was more important to him than the truth. To understand the loyalty Capa inspired in his friends, read the essays in Robert Capa (1974) compiled by Cornell Capa. However, to help sort fact from fiction the best source is Robert Capa (1985) by Richard Whelan. Whelan, with Cornell Capa, edited Robert Capa: Photographs (1985), which includes many photographs before they were cropped by picture editors.
Whelan, Richard, Robert Capa: a biography, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. □