Fotograf Magazine

Robert Capa – Face of History

It is 50 years ago this year since, as a war reporter for Life in Vietnam, he took his last photograph. He was forty-one years old and had known at first hand the horrors of war and their impact on everyday life. He spent almost half his life on front lines and in the midst of fighting. No one ever photographed war with greater courage and with such feeling.

The legend named Robert Capa was born in Paris in spring 1935, a time when it was very difficult for a photographer from eastern Europe to sell his work. It was an enterprising pair of young people – Andrei Friedmann and his friend Gerda Taro – who invented the character of a mysterious and prominent American photographer. They were both refugees from Nazi Germany, he of Hungarian, she of Polish origin. It did not take long for the photos they proffered under the name of Robert Capa to get published. Robert Capa was everywhere the pot was boiling, at disturbances, political gatherings and meetings. However, what really made the name of Robert Capa known as a photographer was his reportage from the Spanish Civil War – his photograph of the falling Republican soldier went around the world and became a dark icon of the horrors of war and harbinger of the subsequent worldwide conflict. During World War II he photographed in the front line as war reporter for Life, Colliers and others. His series of photos from the Normandy landings confirmed his renown.

In 1947, with three photographer friends, Capa founded Magnum Photos – an association of leading photo reporters of different nationalities with the aim of establishing their photographs as and objective evidence of their age and history. He himself continued to follow and document world events as an involved commentator always where the action was. He worked on projects with writer friends (John Steinbeck, Irwin Shaw, T.H. White), travelled to the Soviet Union, to Israel, Hungary and Poland, and published reports from his travels as books. His reporting for Life from the war in Indochina proved fatal. On 25 May 1954 he stepped on a landmine and died still in the midst of his work.

Robert Capa looked at war close up, but did not focus on its shocking scenes. It is his photographs of people’s faces, torn out of normal life, marked by fear and despair, that witness to its absurdity and cruelty. They are alike in their sorrow, whether from Spain, France, Italy or Vietnam; they are, in their terrible essence, alike in the way that all military conflicts are alike. But it is always the person that predominates in the visual field of his photographs, and so in the whirlwind of events Capa’s close friends find themselves before his lens: Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and William Faulkner.

Faces of close friends and faces of unknown and people. This exhibition presenting the photographic work of Robert Capa is dedicated to them. The exhibition is presented 7 April – 11 July by the Municipal House and Art Link in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of France, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Institut Francais de Prague and the Goethe-Institut, Prague. The exhibition has been prepared by the agency Magnum Photos and the Municipality of Milan.