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Robert Capa

Hungarian Photographer

Robert Capa Photo
Born: October 22, 1913
Budapest, Hungary
Died: May 25, 1954
Thái Bình, Vietnam
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If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.
Robert Capa

Summary of Robert Capa

A war photographer that hated war, Capa used a small 35 MM camera to get close to the action and close to his subjects, thus he was able to show the devastating effects of violence on the lives of those in its midst. His approach to Photojournalism was rooted in the idea that photographs could tell stories, that single images could get to the essence of the subjects they captured, and thus his photographs of conflict were imbued with narrative and pathos. His iconic images of the Spanish Civil War and World War II are known today through their widespread reproduction on the printed page.
Through his work as a war correspondent, and the publication of his photographs in magazines and newspapers, Capa set the standard for future photographers and their collaboration with major news outlets.

Key Ideas

Biography of Robert Capa

Robert Capa Life and Legacy

Robert Capa was born Endre Friedmann into a working-class Jewish family. His parents, Dezsö Friedmann and Julianna Berkovits, ran a dress salon in Pest, Hungary where his father worked as a tailor. His brother Kornel was born five years later.

Important Art by Robert Capa

The Falling Soldier (1936)

The Falling Soldier (1936)

In this iconic photograph a loyalist soldier is shown mere moments after being fatally shot. Isolated in a barren field, the soldier's body falls backward; his knees buckling and arms flailing. The rifle he was clutching in his right hand has begun to loosen from his grip. Full of movement and stillness, this grainy black and white image is emblematic of photography's singular ability to capture what photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the "decisive moment." Unflinchingly direct in its depiction of sudden death, Capa's photograph is now widely considered to be the most famous war photograph ever made.

The photograph's dramatic composition - of a soldier's outstretched arms near the moment of death - is reminiscent of Francisco Goya's The Third of May 1808 (1814), which illustrates another key moment in the history of modern Spain. This image, taken during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), is from the first military campaign that Capa shot during his career as a war correspondent. The Falling Soldier is characteristic of his approach to photography and his uncanny ability to capture the most dramatic moments of war with startling realism. With this photograph Capa initiated a new form of photojournalism, which was made possible in part by the introduction of the handheld 35-mm Leica camera. The Leica allowed for maximum mobility and quick exposures, thus bringing photography onto the battlefield in a way had been impossible during World War I (when larger tripod-mounted cameras and glass plate negatives made instantaneous shooting untenable). The Falling Soldier brought Capa instant notoriety and, more importantly, it set the bar for war photography in the decades that followed. By 1938, at the age of twenty-five, Capa was hailed by the British magazine Picture Post, "the greatest war photographer in the world."

Controversial from the start, viewers were stunned by the photograph's violence when it first appeared in various European magazines, including Vu (1936), Paris-Soir (1937), and Regards (1937). Journalist Alex Kershaw has noted that when the image appeared in a 1937 Life magazine spread, "several readers wrote angrily to the editor complaining about such graphic depiction of violence. No such image had ever appeared in the homes of Middle America." In the ensuing years, further controversy has surrounded the authenticity of the photograph and whether or not it was staged for the camera. Some have claimed that the photograph was made during training exercises, rather than in the heat of battle, while others have disputed the location where the photograph was made. Kershaw reminds us that despite the controversy, "what has never been in doubt is that the publication of The Falling Soldier marked a point of no return. The photograph ensured..." that Robert Capa would be remembered as, "...the American photographer so daring, so determined to get as close as possible to the intensity of war, that he was even able to record the very instant of a man's death."

Man carrying a wounded boy, Battle of Teruel, Spain (1937)

Man carrying a wounded boy, Battle of Teruel, Spain (1937)

Here Capa focuses in on the face of a man who visibly struggles under the weight of the wounded child he carries in his arms. This close focus on the individual was a means of re-personalizing the war and its effects. Wearing a hat, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, the man carries the young boy to safety in the aftermath of the siege of the Spanish hilltop town of Teruel. The young boy, whose left arm is slung across the man's chest, has been seriously injured, his right pant leg ripped open exposing his bare thigh and its blood-soaked bandage.

This photograph is one of a series of images Capa took while photographing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. It is an excellent example of Capa's desire to show the devastating impact of war on everyday people in a way that the public could identify. According to journalist Alex Kershaw, through these important images, Capa sought to memorialize "the saddest faces of war," and "in so doing, he became the first photographer to bring the full horror of war into the homes of readers around Europe and beyond. In his images, the battle for Spain was pitiless, sparing none." For Capa, photographing the Spanish Civil War was about more than photographing the frontlines, it was also about telling the stories of those affected by it.

An American medic treats a captured German soldier, Sicily, July 1943 (1943)

An American medic treats a captured German soldier, Sicily, July 1943 (1943)

In this 1943 photograph by Robert Capa an American medic treats an injured German soldier recently captured by Allied forces. A closely cropped image, taken from the side, it shows a medic, wearing a helmet and white medical armband, as he treats a visibly bloodied German soldier. His eyes closed, the German soldier seems remarkably calm in the aftermath of a long and arduous battle that ended with his capture. This image is emblematic of Capa's ability, even in the face of unspeakable acts, to humanize his subjects and imbue his photographs with narrative and feeling.

Despite his relative fame as a war photographer, it was not until 1943 that he was officially sent to North Africa as a correspondent. Traveling with the U.S. Army, Capa followed the troops into battle first in North Africa and later in Sicily in the summer of 1943, where this photograph was taken. The sheer exhaustion of the German soldiers, who were captured after a week-long siege in the hills of Sicily, is palpable in Capa's photograph. Throughout his career as a photojournalist, Capa was committed to showing the harsh realities of war, from the heroism of the Allied soldiers, to the defeat and capture of the German forces. As journalist Alex Kershaw has written, "Capa's photographs expressed better than words the awful truth of the Italian campaign."

Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Robert Capa Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 20 Oct 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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