Art & Culture – Robert Capa

Robert Capa
Robert Capa

By Brian Collins

The name Robert Capa instantly brings to mind images.  Images of desperation, images of death, images of comrades, images of the 20th century, images of war.

Robert Capa was born Endre Friedmann to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1913.  At the age of eighteen he moved to Berlin, which would presently become a hellish city to be living in if you held Jewish identity.  Observing the Nazi party and Hitler’s rise, he moved to Paris where he changed his name to Robert Capa, the name which has shot around photo journalism ever since.


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His first published photograph was in 1932 of Leon Trotsky making a speech in Copenhagen.  He went on to photograph the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, taking one of his most recognisable photographs now labelled, The Falling Solider.  The authenticity of this photograph is disputed, however, the emotions the image conveys is irrefutable.

During World War II Capa was present in many European locations, including, most daringly, Omaha beach, photographing amongst the first wave of American troops.  Unfortunately, the majority of the 106 photos he took while under fire on D-Day were destroyed while being processed.  The ones that remained have been dubbed, The Magnificent Eleven, published in Life magazine in June 1944.

In 1947, he accompanied the author John Steinbeck to the Soviet Union.  They went with the intention of documenting the attitudes and living conditions of the post World War II population.  A Russian Journal was published by Steinbeck, which included Capa’s photos.

Capa travelled to Japan in 1954 to oversee an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos, a cooperative agency he co-founded.  While there Life asked him to go on assignment to Indochina (South-East Asia) where the First Indochina War, fighting between French forces and Viet Minh, was in its seventh year.  A few years previously he had stated that he was finished with war, but he took on the assignment.  He stepped on a land mine in Indochina and died before he reached a hospital.

Capa en Color, currently running in the Circulo de Bellas Artes until the 15/01/17, shows a different element to Capa’s renowned work.  He used colour more in his postwar photography, yet a lot of the work was never published.  He photographed known personalities of the day such as Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, the Dutch Royal family, John Steinbeck and Humphrey Bogart, among others.  These photos are part of the collection currently on display in Circulo de Bellas Artes.  €4 entry, a must for photography students and enthusiasts, or for anyone who is interested in the history of 20th century war.

Circulo de Bellas Artes, Calle de Alcalá, 42, 28014, Room: Picasso. Metro: Banco de España. Entry: €4.

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