One of the leading photographers of the twentieth century, Robert Capa is well known for his images of the Spanish Civil War, of the Sino-Japanese conflict and of World War II—all of which appeared in the pages of leading magazines including LIFE.
Born in Budapest in 1913, Capa was exiled from Hungary at the age of seventeen. He relocated to Berlin to study journalism but ended up working as an assistant in the darkroom of a photojournalistic agency. There he received his first assignment: to photograph the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
Early in 1933, Hitler’s rise to power forced Capa to move to Paris. There, he covered the movements of the anti-fascist coalition of liberals, socialists, and the Communist Popular Front. However, whilst in Paris, Capa also captured images of more joyful times—the Tour de France, the Paris cafés, as well as portraits of his artist friends, including Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Pablo Picasso.
On September 5, 1936, a month into the Republican struggle against Franco’s fascist army, twenty- two-year-old Capa captured what has become the most famous image of the Spanish Civil War: The Falling Soldier. Widely published, the image subsequently became the ultimate symbol of the Spanish Loyalist fight.
In 1938 Capa traveled to China to document the country’s war with Japan. Here, Capa was under tight censorship and could not travel and photograph freely as he had done in Spain. Nevertheless, he still managed to capture dynamic images of the Chinese army and non-combatants.
Returning to Spain in late 1938, Capa followed the Republican soldiers as they battled against the encroaching Francoist forces. Images from the battle on November 7, 1938 together with photographs of the beach landing in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, represent the Hungarian photographer’s best war reportage. Capa claimed that he photographed the last man shot in World War II in Leipzig, Germany in April 1945. This image, published in LIFE, harks back to “The Falling Soldier” picture taken in 1936.
On May 25th, 1954, whilst photographing the French Indochina war in the Red River delta, Capa stepped on a mine and was killed.
If you are interested in reading more about Robert Capa and his war reportage, a fully illustrated, 400-page book published by ICP/Steidl titled This Is War! Robert Capa at Work is available.