Robert Capa (1913-1954)

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Today is the 100th anniversary of Robert Capa’s birth (1913-1954). He was a war photographer, killed in Vietnam (embedded with French troops) after stepping on a land mine. Born in Budapest to Jewish parents, he lived in Berlin, Paris, and the United States. He knew Steinbeck, Picasso, Hemingway, even had an affair with Ingrid Bergman. He covered the Spanish Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the French Indochina War.

He is most famous for the iconic image above, shot at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. There has been some controversy over the “authenticity” of this photograph. Some have claimed that this is, in fact, a posed photograph. Some claim that it was originally posed, but then the soldier was actually shot. Some claim it is a real photo taken in the midst of a battle.

In a recently discovered radio interview with Robert Capa in 1947 (his only known radio interview), he shares the story of how this photograph came to be. He was in a trench with 20 young “green” Andalusian soldiers.  There was a Franco machine gun aimed at them. The soldiers with their old rifles shot in the direction of the machine gun. The machine gun did not respond, the soldiers moved out and were shot down by the machine gun. The surviving soldiers came back to the trench. They once again shot in the direction of the machine gun. The machine gun did not return their fire. The soldiers moved out and the machine gun opened fire, surviving soldiers scurrying back to the trench. This was repeated several times. On the fourth time, Capa said he literally held the camera high above his head and randomly clicked the shutter, never seeing the picture in the frame. He didn’t even know that he had captured the moment of a soldier being killed.

Art is always filled with artifice. Images and imagery are always manipulated by the artist for desired effect and message. Especially in photography, there is the deceit of reality, but, in fact, composition and other creative choices change that reality and the reading of that reality by the viewer. Sometimes greater truth is located in these manipulations. I believe Robert Capa’s story about the photograph of the “Falling Man.” Even in the almost random way the photo was taken, there was intention. It is that spontaneousness and serendipity which make this photograph so powerful and so truthful.

Other photographs by Capa:

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Trotsky lecturing Danish students on the history of the Russian Revolution, November 27, 1932

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Picasso and Francoise Gilot, August 1948

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Robert Capa and John Steinbeck, Moscow 1947

This entry was posted in photography, truth and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Robert Capa (1913-1954)

  1. Jerome Bloom says:

    I LOVE ART

    IN ALL

    ITS

    FORMS

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