Capa, Robert

American (1913-1954)

Robert Capa (born Endre Friedmann) led an action-packed life. Born in Budapest, he left the country in 1932 after being arrested for political protest. He fled to Berlin, where he aspired to be a writer, but ended up finding photographic work; his first assignment was to photograph Trotsky. In 1933, as his career was taking off, the rise of Nazism drove him to France, where he met Gerda Taro. In addition to becoming lovers, the two started a photography business with a fictitious and famous third business partner, Robert Capa; by touting his renown, the pair fetched three times the going rate at the time for his photographs. When Friedmann assumed the name, he had a ready-made fan base.  

Capa is best known for his war photography, having shot from the trenches from 1936-1954. As such, his images are more about dramatic moments than technical prowess, and the events he captured are myriad. His most famous photo – taken in 1936 – is that of a soldier falling, seconds after being shot; its authenticity has been disputed and Capa has been accused of staging the scene. Also notable are 8 shots of the D-Day Invasion; Capa swam ashore with troops and took over four rolls of film, but an assistant in the developing room accidentally melted the majority of the negatives. After WWII, Capa was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, heavy drinking and was grieving Taro’s death on the battlefield. He swore off war reportage and co-founded Magnum Photos – the first cooperative agency for freelance photographers – with Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947. For a few years, he took calmer assignments around the world, but was lured back to the front in 1954 to cover the First Indochina War. He was killed after he stepped on a landmine, years before his time. His brother, Cornell Capa, has preserved his brother’s legacy by founding the International Fund for Concerned Photography in 1966 and tracking down a lost suitcase of shots in 1995.