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Monday, February 23, 2009

Capa coming back home

A piece of news that made my day last week: the National Museum bought more than 1,000 photographs taken by Robert Capa, one of my favorite photographers.

Capa was born in Budapest as Endre Friedmann and left the country at the age of 18 because he was involved in some leftist student activities and his parents thought it would be better if he left for a while (he actually never lived in Hungary again and he probably wouldn't have survived the WWII if he did--the Jewish population in Hungary was almost completely exterminated).

He went on to become a famous photojournalist, covering almost all the important wars of the 20th century: the Spanish civil war, WWII, Israeli War of Independence, the French Indochina War (to look at his portfolio is to realise how much senseless destruction and suffering there was in our supposedly civilised times).

One of his most famous images is that of the death of a Spanish Loyalist militiaman as he is falling on his back, struck by a bullet. It's incredibly powerful but I prefer his pictures of civilians--normal people trying to survive in abnormal times.

He also has many non-war pictures that are incredibly good, even though he remains celebrated mostly as a war photographer. He was one of the founders of the photographic agency Magnum and you can find a selection of his photos on their website.

Capa was the one who famously said that "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough." And this was said of him by Henri Cartier-Bresson, another great photographer of the previous century:
For me, Capa wore the dazzling matador's costume but he never went in for a kill; a great player, he fought generously for himself and for others in a whirwind. Destiny was determined that he should be struck down at the height of his glory.


Ruslan said...

That's great news. I also like Capa a lot. He was a cool man as well and led quite an adventurous life. Do you know that he liked skiing a lot and went skiing to Switzerland every year. That's why I suggest we go skiing next week.

Regrading the Spanish soldier though, there are some opinions that the photo is staged.

Jelica said...

I also read he was a bon vivant. Where did you get that about the Spanish photo?

p.s. People will think we are mad, talking to each other via the comment box :)

Ruslan said...

BTW, there is a very good biography of his in the French Institute. Don't you want to go and borrow it for the ski trip? You can practice your French and I can remind myself of some facts.

Re the Falling Soldier photo, read this

It is a true detective story.

You also know that he lived a personal tragedy in Spain, his girlfriend Gerda Taro, a photographer too, being killed by a tank.

willow said...

I've always loved this picture of Picasso by Capa. Great post. And interesting comments from Ruslan, too!

Jelica said...

I love it, too. I think he has some great non-war photos and it's a pity he is mostly remembered for the images of violence. Btw, that's a great article that Ruslan linked to--a real investigative piece.