Robert Capa was many things – war photographer, photography master and a man of true grit. His widely celebrated life is still the subject of many works and stories to this day. Today would have been the great photographer’s 100th birthday.
Much can be said about the legend of Robert Capa as the “greatest war photographer in the world.” His photographs drew pictures that are not only a part of the world’s modern history but a reminder of how war is waged and how lives are lost. Capa’s photographs captured the state of war – dealt with the heroics of the soldiers who fought for their countries and the people who have lost their lives trying to defend the freedom they promised to uphold. Such were the images brought to us by Robert Capa.
Born Endre Friedmann on October 22, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary; he took the name Robert Capa as a way to have his photographs noticed. The name was adopted through the help of his then girlfriend and fellow photographer Gerda Taro. Ever since, the name Capa would resonate with images of great photography and war journalism.
The myth of Robert Capa and his cover of the frontlines of battles have become all too familiar for aspiring photographers and enthusiasts. His most famous maxim “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is a true testament to his style in photography. Capa’s documentation of the war was made in the trenches along with the soldiers who risked their lives. He was part of the D-Day landing in Omaha Beach that immortalized his status as one of the greatest war journalists to have ever walked the battlefields with just his camera and rolls of film as his weapons. The haunting but heroic images of war were produced in the thick of battle, Capa’s maxim rang true for his times on the field.
In an interview with John Morris, a dear friend of Capa’s, the former picture editor of Life tells about the man who lived a life in the midst of war. Morris recalls that Capa was a like the brother he never had and that he wanted to live more than just die on the frontlines. According to Morris, Capa was unpretentious about the path he had taken and that this mindset separated him from the other photographers during his time.
“The pictures are there, and you just take them” was significantly true about Robert Capa’s approach to war photography. He looked at the subjects as they were and froze the moment in all its gritty glory. Capa was also a man of reality. He took pleasure in the company of people as well as the fact that if he had to risk his life for a story, it should well be published on the cover. Morris added that Capa was a charismatic man who attracted women as well as men into his company. Capa rubbed elbows with the likes of David “Chim” Seymour, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Pablo Picasso. His relationships with the likes of Gerda Taro and Ingrid Bergman among others justly reinforced that.
The war photographer commanded attention to himself and his pictures. His works stand out from the rest and ushered in an age of photography that maybe only he can do. The photography great met his end in 1954 while covering the First Indochina War between French and Viet Minh forces. He stepped on a landmine while trying to get pictures in the heat of battle. Indeed, Robert Capa left more than just his compelling photographs to the world – he left a legacy and a legend that can be fully described even with just the name Capa.
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