Robert Capa

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Robert Capa is a well-known name when it comes to war photography but his career met with an unexpected end when he stepped on a land mine in an isolated field in Indochina. The legendary photographer breathed his last on May 25, 1954. 

While he might have been incautious as a photographer, he was focused and dedicated as a photographer. . No matter how bad the situation was or the historical condition during  his time , Robert Capa always participated in every event to capture it through his camera. He never got exhausted by his passion and worked relentlessly towards  it. He lived a life full of risks but never put another individual’s life  in danger. The charming virtues and  flawed personality of Robert Capa made him quite an interesting figure. All his mannerisms and lifestyle were well-balanced and his love for any major city and discomfort in the country was evident.

His complete knowledge of war made him despise it to the core, because he witnessed mass destruction and loss of innocent lives with his own eyes and  also through the camera lens. This made him find peace and solace at the most unexpected places. However, Capa had one problem- he proved to be the world’s worst driver and hence, never crossed farther than the Champs Elysees by himself. He had a jolly nature that made the old laugh and the young feel inspired. Despite all this, the man hid his suffering and loneliness all too well. His life ended tragically, but even as he died he held onto one thing he truly loved- his camera. All that this legend left behind apart from  his material belongings were some of the greatest photographs of modern history and a bereaved world grieving for the loss of a renowned photographer. 

Robert Capa grew up to have an enchanting personality with due credit to his historical background that is quite gripping and interesting. He was born as Andrei Friedman in Budapest in 1913.. At the age of 18, he left home to seek a job as a dark room apprentice with a Berlin picture agency. Some exclusive pictures of Leon Trotsky captured by Friedman were his first shot to  success and fame.

As Hitler took over, rFriedman  left for Paris and met his Polish fiance, Gerda Taro. The struggles of the two at establishing themselves in freelance journalism had been captured in an article in the magazine ‘The Man Who Invented Himself’ by John Hersey. Andrei along with his fiance formed an association having an imaginary third person called Robert Capa. The two portrayed this man as a rich and famous photographer who was visiting France at that  time. While Friedman took pictures and Gerda sold them, all the credit was given to this  imaginary Robert Capa, so that the couple could charge a high sum of money for their photographs which  they sold to various newspapers and magazines. 

Vue editor, Lucien Vogel soon found out about this arrangement, but it hardly mattered. Both Capa and Gerda were sent to Spain on work. It is here that Capa captured a Spanish soldier dying, a remarkable picture that made him a star overnight. Soon after Gerda died  on the battlefield and to get over her sad demise, Capa left for China to cover the battle of Taierchwang. Following this, he also captured many memorable moments of the Spanish war right up to its end in 1939. During World War II, he was in America even though he was technically from the enemy side. However, he got an opportunity to join the invasion convoy to North Africa in 1942. 

He was a part of the paratroopers that participated in the cold grim winter campaign of 1943-44. This war photographer had his break, when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, where he captured 4 films containing footage of the ongoing war. These were considered to be some of the most famous films in history, but unfortunately eleven frames were destroyed in Life’s London darkroom. Whatever remained  was published by Life and Capa was successful in maintaining his image as the best war photographer. 

Capa witnessed the end of war  and even captured the death of one of the last American soldiers. While he had enough with all the gruesome violence, he could not give up the golden opportunity to cover the birth of Israel in 1949, along with Irwin Shaw. During this period, Robert Capa had also contributed to the birth of an international cooperative agency of freelance photographers known as Magnum Photos along with a couple of his associates like David Seymour, William Vandivert and others. 

With Magnum Photos, Capa ventured out into the world as a businessman selling the art made by the cooperative. He even tried his hand at writing, combined with photography and created pieces like “Death in the Making” which was based on the Spanish Civil war, “Waterloo Bridge” on the London Blitz and two other books. Capa became well known for his famous line entrenched with deep meaning and loathe  for war- “To me, war is like an aging actress- more and more dangerous and less and less photogenic”. 

 A Magnum exhibition brought the photographer to Japan. Life informed him that they needed someone at the Indochina front to cover the ongoing war. Capa volunteered to do the job but it cost him his life. On 25th May, as he was capturing the war with his camera he stepped on a landmine and lost his life. His body was found still holding onto the camera, his  most prized possession. 

Friends, family and admirers of Capa’s work, met at the Old Quaker meeting house at Purchase for his funeral. The Overseas Press Club even established an award “for superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad” to pay homage to Robert Capa’s memory.  

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Dorothy Humphrey

Dorothy Humphrey

Dorothy and her interest in the history of photography drove her to incorporate historical articles as well on the website. According to her, we cannot speak of photography in the present without acknowledging the works of photographers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Dorothy Humphrey

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