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Famous Photographers - Robert Capa

Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection
Robert Capa: The
Definitive Collection

Famous Photographers >> Robert Capa

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) was born Ernest Andrei Friedmann in Budapest. Capa was possibly the most famous war photographer of the 20th century. Robert Capa covered five different wars: the Spanish civil war, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. The course of World War II in London, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of Normandy on Omaha Beach and at the liberation of Paris are all famously documented by Capa.

Capa began his career in the 1930s as a small time photographer. Capa moved from Germany to France in 1933. While living in France he found it difficult to find work as a freelance journalist. While there he adopted the name Robert Capa, as one that would be almost recognisable and sound familiar, since it was close to the film maker Frank Capra's name and sounded American. He would often find himself in the middle of key historic events. From 1936 to 1939, he was all over Spain photographing the horrors the Spanish Civil War brought to the civilians. In 1936 he became known across the globe for a photo he took on the Cordoba Front of a Loyalist Militiaman who had just been shot and was in the act of falling to his death. After a long controversy about the authenticity of this photograph, historians succeded in identifying the dead soldier as Federico Borrell García and proved it authentic.

World War II would bring Capa all around the world photographing first for Collier's Weekly and later for Life Magazine. At the time he was hired he was a citizen of Greater Nazi Germany, but he was also Jewish.

One of his most famous work was done on June 6th, 1944 (D-Day) where he swam up on the beaches like all the other soldiers that day, but instead of being armed with a gun, he was armed with a Rolleiflex and a Contax II. Capa managed to expose 106 frames as he felt "a new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair, and twisting my face." This irreplacable film, for which Capa risked his life, was rushed to the Time-Life London Lab and was essentially destroyed in processing. Only 11 blurred frames survived. The error was blamed on a 15-year-old lab assistant named Larry Burrows. Life Magazine printed 10 of the frames in its June 19th, 1944 issue with insulting captions that described the footage as "slightly out of focus", which gave Capa the rueful title of his autobiography.

In 1947 Capa, founded Magnum Photos. His fellow early workers there included Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. In 1951 he became the president.

Apart from his reputation as a photographer, Capa was also known as a gambler and socialite. One of his most famous affairs was with Ingrid Bergman, only publicised many years later in her autobiography.

In the early 1950's Capa traveled to Japan for an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos. While there Life Magazine asked him to go on assignment to Southeast Asia, where the French had been fighting for 8 years in the First Indochina War. Capa accompanied a French regiment and on May 25th, 1954 at 2:55PM, the regiment passed through a dangerous area in deep forests. It was at this time that Capa stepped on a landmine, abruptly ending his glorious but all too brief career.

In order to preserve the photographic heritage of Robert Capa and other photographers his brother Cornell Capa founded the International Fund for Concerned Photography in 1966. To give this collection a permanent home he founded the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1974.

Further Information

Recommended Reading

Slightly Out of Focus, Robert Capa Heart of Spain: Robert Capa's Photographs of the Spanish Civil War Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa by Alex Kershaw Robert Capa: Photographs
Slightly Out of Focus, Robert Capa Heart of Spain: Robert Capa's Photographs of the Spanish Civil War Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa by Alex Kershaw Robert Capa: Photographs

On the Web

Robert Capa (1913-1954) from

Robert Capa from PBS

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Robert Capa".