A Collection of Vintage Prints
The US photographer Robert Capa (born Endre Friedmann in Hungary, 1913) was a Jewish Hungarian photographer. He left home at 18, originally wanting to be a writer; however, he found work as a photographer in Berlin. In 1933, he moved to France because of the rise of Nazism, but found it difficult to work as a freelance journalist. He had to conceal his Jewish name and adopted the name "Robert Capa".
In 1947, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris with David Seymour, Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger and William Vandivert. The organization was the first co-operative agency for worldwide freelance photographers.
Robert Capa is probably the twentieth century’s most celebrated and iconic war photographer. But he was not one in the mould of many contemporary war photographers today. He didn’t concentrate on gore, horror, brutality and violence or wallowed in the sort of voyeurism of those attracted to car accidents.
He captured the way humanity and the human spirit survives even in the turmoil and horror of war. He also worked at a time before embedded journalists and the sophisticated manipulation and management of imagery by the powerful laid new ground rules and emasculated photo-journalists’ independence.
Capa’s image, The Falling Soldier, depicting a falling Republican soldier in the Spanish Civil War, is undoubtedly his most famous, even though controversial, picture - its authenticity, as well as who the actual photographer was, has been seriously questioned. Nevertheless, the body of work he has left us is substantial enough to place him among the greats.
He reported from five wars, first the Spanish Civil War, then the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War in Europe, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and concluding with the first Indochina War, where he was died after stepping on a landmine in 1954.
This exhibition comprises rare vintage Capa prints from the period 1943 to 1945. Many are exhibited here for the first time, and some are newly recognised as his. It is wonderful to be able to see this collection of prints together as sizable images and not simply thumbnail illustrations in a book.
What separates and distinguishes Capa from most of his contemporaries and indeed his successors, is the amazing way he found and captured images of such profound simplicity. Many are made up of only very few elements that give them the quality of classical paintings or etchings; they are the photographic equivalent of Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’.
Rooted in social documentary, he was instinctive, audacious, brave, cavalier, even reckless, saying: “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.
“Doesn’t mind the heat, somewhere in France 1944” depicts a solitary US soldier, his rifle slung on his back, sitting, as if in an armchair on the mudguard of a wrecked Citroen in front of a gutted house, from which smoke is still billowing. The soldier is making notes or sketching, as if he were in a tranquil pastoral landscape. There are only three elements to the image: a car, a house and a soldier. Or again, in “Lovers’ Parting near Nicosia, Sicily,” we have again only three elements: an Italian soldier walking with his girlfriend who is pushing her bike along a country road. But it is pregnant with the sadness of their forthcoming parting and uncertain future.
“American Troops Approaching Cherbourg, France” shows a single US soldier running behind a fence past a toppled sign that says: Umgehungsstrasse Cherbourg (Road diversion to Cherbourg). Once more, only three elements that tell us so much.
“Conquered town in Italy” shows a row of exhausted soldiers sitting against a wall, a jeep trundles down the street and stops underneath a shop with the sign ‘unico’. Again simple selected elements.
Capa, though, also took many portraits. His first published photograph was of Trotsky making a speech in Copenhagen in 1932, and he also photographed Picasso.
Daniel Blau Gallery, London Opening: 3 April, 6-8 pm
Exhibition: 4 April - 10 May, 2014 Tuesday - Saturday 11am-6pm