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Robert Capa
Robert Capa on assignment in Spain, using an Eyemo 16mm movie camera. Image by Gerda Taro
Born Endre Friedmann[1]
October 22, 1913 (1913-10-22)
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died May 25, 1954 (1954-05-26) (aged 40)
Thai Binh, State of Vietnam

Robert Capa (born Friedmann Endre;[1] October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist who covered five different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. He documented the course of World War II in London, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of Normandy on Omaha Beach and the liberation of Paris.

In 1947, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris with David "Chim" Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert. The organization was the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers.


He was born Endre Friedmann to Dezső and Júlia Friedmann (Julianna Henrietta Berkovits born in Nagykapos Kingdom of Hungary, now Veľké Kapušany Slovakia) October 22, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Deciding that there was little future under the regime in Hungary, he left home at 18.

Capa originally wanted to be a writer; however, he found work in photography in Berlin and grew to love the art. In 1933, he moved from Germany to France because of the rise of Nazism, but found it difficult to find work as a freelance journalist. He adopted the name "Robert Capa" around this time— cápa ("shark") was his nickname in school and he felt that it would be recognizable and American-sounding, since it was similar to that of film director Frank Capra. He found it easier to sell his photos under the newly adopted "American"-sounding name. Over a period of time, he gradually assumed the persona of Robert Capa (with the help of his girlfriend Gerda Taro, who acted as an intermediary with those who purchased the photos taken by the "great American photographer, Robert Capa"). Capa's first published photograph was of Leon Trotsky making a speech in Copenhagen on "The Meaning of the Russian Revolution" in 1932.[2]

Spanish Civil War and Chinese resistance to Japan[]

File:Capa, Death of a Loyalist Soldier.jpg

The Falling Soldier

From 1936 to 1939, Capa worked in Spain, photographing the Spanish Civil War, along with Gerda Taro, his companion and professional photography partner, and David Seymour.[3] In 1938, he traveled to the Chinese city of Hankow, now called Wuhan, to document the resistance to the Japanese invasion.[4]

In 1936, Capa became known across the globe for the "Falling Soldier" photo long thought to have been taken in Cerro Muriano on the Cordoba Front. It was thought to be of a Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) militiaman[2] who had just been shot and was falling to his death, and was long considered an iconic image of the war. Scholars have debated the authenticity of this photograph. A Spanish historian later identified the dead soldier as Federico Borrell García, from Alcoi (Alicante), but this identification has been disputed.[5] However, on 3 February 2013 an investigative documentary broadcast by Japan's NHK[6] detailing painstaking research carried out by Kotaro Sawaki[7] presented a compelling case for Gerda Taro to be acknowledged as the real photographer. Capa remained conspicuously unwilling to discuss The Falling Soldier, which was published shortly after Taro's death. Making use of computer analysis of this and other photographs taken at the time, Sawaki has identified the precise location and demonstrated that the soldier merely lost his footing on the rough slope during a practice charge made (with Mauser rifles clearly not ready to fire) before any fighting took place in the area. A recording of Capa discussing how he took the photograph was released by Magnum and can be heard in a radio interview [8]

World War II[]

File:Capa, D-Day2.jpg

D-Day landings, 6-6-1944.

File:Capa, D-Day1.jpg

D-Day landings, 6-6-1944.

At the start of World War II, Capa was in New York City, having moved there from Paris to look for work, and to escape Nazi persecution. During the war, Capa was sent to various parts of the European Theatre on photography assignments. He first photographed for Collier's Weekly, before switching to Life magazine after he was fired by Collier's. He was the only "enemy alien" photographer for the Allies. During July and August 1943 Capa was in Sicily with American troops, near Sperlinga, Nicosia and Troina. The Americans were advancing toward Troina, a strategically located town which controlled the road to Messina (Sicily's main port to the mainland). The town was being fiercely defended by the Germans, in an attempt to evacuate all German troops. Robert Capa's pictures show the Sicilian population's sufferings under German bombing and their happiness when American soldiers arrive. One notable photograph from this period shows a Sicilian peasant indicating the direction in which German troops had gone, near Sperlinga. On 7 October 1943 Robert Capa was in Naples with Life reporter Will Lang Jr., and there he photographed the Naples post office bombing.[9]

Omaha beach[]

Probably his most famous images, The Magnificent Eleven, are a group of photos of D-Day. Taking part in the Allied invasion, Capa was with the second wave of American troops on Omaha Beach. The men storming Omaha Beach faced some of the heaviest resistance from German troops within the bunkers of the Atlantikwall. While under constant fire, Capa took 106 pictures, but all but eleven were destroyed in a photo lab accident back in London.[10]

Russia and Israel[]

In 1947 Capa traveled to the Soviet Union with his friend, the American writer John Steinbeck. He took photos in Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi, Batumi and among the ruins of Stalingrad. Steinbeck's account of their journey, A Russian Journal, (1948) was illustrated with Capa's photos.

In 1947, Capa founded the cooperative venture Magnum Photos in Paris with Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert, David Seymour, and George Rodger. It was a cooperative agency to manage work for and by freelance photographers, and developed a reputation for the excellence of its photo-journalists. In 1952, he became the president.

Capa toured Israel after its founding. He took the numerous photographs that accompanied Irwin Shaw's book, Report on Israel.

First Indochina War and death[]

File:1149445 10151539923025988 1865921200 o.jpg

Robert Capa's grave marker at Amawalk Hill Cemetery in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

In the early 1950s, Capa traveled to Japan for an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos. While there, Life magazine asked him to go on assignment to Southeast Asia, where the French had been fighting for eight years in the First Indochina War.

Although a few years earlier he had said he was finished with war, Capa accepted and accompanied a French regiment with two Time-Life journalists, John Mecklin and Jim Lucas. On May 25, 1954 at 2:55 p.m., the regiment was passing through a dangerous area under fire when Capa decided to leave his Jeep and go up the road to photograph the advance. About five minutes later, Mecklin and Lucas heard an explosion; Capa had stepped on a landmine. When they arrived on the scene, he was alive but his left leg had been blown to pieces, and he had a serious wound in his chest. Mecklin called for a medic and Capa was taken to a small field hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.[citation needed]

He is buried in plot #169 at Amawalk Hill Cemetery (also called Friends Cemetery), Amawalk, Westchester County, New York. Along with his mother, Julia, and his brother, Cornell Capa.

Personal life[]

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He was born into a Jewish family in Budapest,[11] where his parents were tailors. At the age of 18, Capa moved to Vienna, later relocated to Prague, and finally settled in Berlin: all cities that were centers of artistic and cultural ferment in this period. He started studies in journalism at the German Political College, but the Nazi Party instituted restrictions on Jews and prohibited them from colleges. Capa relocated to Paris, where he adopted the name ’Robert Capa’ in 1934. At that time, he had already been a hobby-photographer.

In 1934 "André Friedman", as he still called himself then, met Gerda Pohorylle, a German Jewish refugee. The couple lived in Paris where André taught Gerda photography. Together they created the name and image of "Robert Capa" as a famous American photographer. Gerda took the name Gerda Taro and became successful in her own right. She travelled with Capa to Spain in 1936 intending to document the Spanish Civil War. In July 1937, Capa traveled briefly to Paris while Gerda remained in Madrid. She was killed near Brunete during a battle. Capa, who was reportedly engaged to her, was deeply shocked and never married.

In February 1943 Capa met Elaine Justin, then married to the actor John Justin. They fell in love and the relationship lasted until the end of the war. Capa spent most of his time in the frontline. Capa called the redheaded Elaine "Pinky," and wrote about her in his war memoir, Slightly Out of Focus. In 1945, Elaine Justin broke up with Capa; she later married Chuck Romine.

Some months later Capa became the lover of the actress Ingrid Bergman, who was touring in Europe to entertain American soldiers.[12]p. 176 In December 1945, Capa followed her to Hollywood, where he worked for American International Pictures for a short time. The relationship ended in the summer of 1946 when Capa traveled to Turkey.


  • His younger brother, Cornell Capa, also a photographer, worked to preserve and promote Robert's legacy as well as develop his own identity and style. He founded the International Fund for Concerned Photography in 1966. To give this collection a permanent home, he founded the International Center of Photography in New York City in 1974. This was one of the foremost and most extensive conservation efforts on photography to be developed. Indeed, Capa and his brother believed strongly in the importance of photography and its preservation, much like film would later be perceived and duly treated in a similar way.
  • The Overseas Press Club created the Robert Capa Gold Medal in the photographer's honor.[13]

Capa is known for redefining wartime photojournalism. His work came from the trenches as opposed to the more arms-length perspective that was the precedent. He was famed for saying, "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough."[14]

  • He is credited with coining the term Generation X. He used it as a title for a photo-essay about the young people reaching adulthood immediately after the Second World War. It was published in 1953 in Picture Post (UK) and Holiday (USA). Capa said, "We named this unknown generation, The Generation X, and even in our first enthusiasm we realised that we had something far bigger than our talents and pockets could cope with."[15]


Scholars began to re-examine Capa's image of The Falling Soldier and disagreed about its authenticity.[5][16] In 2003, a reporter for the Spanish newspaper El Periodico claimed the photo was taken near the town of Espejo, 10 km from Cerro Muriano, and that the image was staged.[17][18] In 2009, a Spanish professor published a book titled Shadows of Photography, in which he showed that the photograph could not have been taken where, when, or how Capa and his backers have said.[19]

For decades, many of Capa's photographs of the Spanish Civil War were presumed lost, but they surfaced in Mexico City in the late 1990s.[20] While fleeing Europe in 1939, Capa had lost the collection, which over time came to be dubbed the "Mexican suitcase".[20]

On December 19, 2007, the owner of the negatives, Benjamin Tarver, decided to return the negatives to the families of the photographers. The collection contained 4,500 negatives of photographs by Capa, Gerda Taro and Chim.[21] Ownership of the collection was transferred to the Capa Estate, and in December 2007 the collection was moved to the International Center of Photography, a museum founded in Manhattan by Capa's younger brother Cornell.[20][22]

The International Center of Photography organized a travelling exhibition titled This Is War: Robert Capa at Work, which displayed Capa's innovations as a photojournalist in the 1930s and 1940s. It includes vintage prints, contact sheets, caption sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters and original magazine layouts from the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. The exhibition appeared at the Barbican Art Gallery, the International Center of Photography of Milan, and the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in the fall of 2009, before moving to the Nederlands Fotomuseum from October 10, 2009 until January 10, 2010.[23]


As a teenager, Capa was drawn to the Munkakör (Work Circle), a group of socialist and avant-garde artists, photographers, and intellectuals centered around Budapest. He participated in the demonstrations against the Miklós Horthy regime. In 1931, just before his first photo was published, Capa was arrested by the Hungarian secret police, beaten, and jailed for his radical political activity. A police official’s wife—who happened to know his family—won Capa’s release on the condition that he would leave Hungary immediately.[2]

The Boston Review has described Capa as "a leftist, and a democrat—he was passionately pro-Loyalist and passionately anti-fascist ..." During the Spanish Civil War, Capa travelled with and photographed the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), under which George Orwell served, which resulted in his best-known photograph.[2]

The British magazine Picture Post ran his photos from Spain in the 1930s accompanied by a portrait of Capa, in profile, with the simple description: "He is a passionate democrat, and he lives to take photographs."[2]

In popular culture[]

  • In 1986, Austrian pop singer Falco produced a song entitle Kamikaze Cappa, as a tribute to Robert Capa. The song appeared on Falco's album "Emotional."
  • The song Taro by the British band Alt-J, appearing on their 2012 album An Awesome Wave, is about the death of Capa, and reunion with his late companion Gerda Taro.
  • In Danny Boyle's 2007 science fiction film Sunshine, the lead character is an astronaut named Robert Capa, played by Cillian Murphy.


  • Death in the Making, 1938.
  • The Battle of Waterloo Road, 1941.
  • Invasion!, 1944.
  • Slightly Out of Focus, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1947.
  • A Russian Journal, by John Steinbeck and Robert Capa, Viking, New York, 1948.
  • Report on Israel, by Irwin Shaw and Robert Capa, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1950.
  • Robert Capa: Photographs, 1996.
  • Heart of Spain, 1999.
  • Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection, 2001.
  • Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa, 2002.
  • "La foto de Capa", 2011 - Córdoba: Paso de Cebra Ediciones, 2011. A fictionalised account of the discovery of the exact location of the "Falling Soldier" photograph. ISBN 978-84-939103-0-3
  • "La Maleta Mexicana", 2011. Movie; the story of three lost boxes known as the Mexican Suitcase that were recovered in 2007.

See also[]

  • Magnum Photos
  • Photojournalism


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Capa, Robert". Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Linfield, Boston Review
  3. "New Works by Photography’s Old Masters", New York Times, April 30, 2009
  4. Stephen R. MacKinnon includes photographs by Robert Capa, in Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Richard Whelan, Proving that Robert Capa's Falling Soldier is Genuine: a Detective Story, American Masters, PBS Website.
  6. NHK、沢木耕太郎推理ドキュメント「運命の一枚〜“戦場”写真 最大の謎」(2013年2月3日放映)
  7. 沢木耕太郎 「キャパの十字架」『文藝春秋』2013年1月号
  8. Capa on the photograph
  9. Slightly Out of Focus, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1947, p.104.
  10. Simon Kuper, "Interview: John Morris on his friend Robert Capa", Financial Times, 31 May 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  11. "Robert Capa", Jewish History, Hungary
  12. Marton, Kati (2006). The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-6115-9. LCCN 2006049162. OCLC 70864519. 
  13. Overseas Press Club of America, Awards Archive.
  15. Ulrich, John (2003-11-01). "Introduction: A (Sub)cultural Genealogy". In Andrea L. Harris. GenXegesis: Essays on Alternative Youth. pp. 3. ISBN 9780879728625. 
  16. "Iconic Capa war photo was staged: newspaper", AFP
  17. (In spanish) "Las fotos expuestas en el MNAC desvelan que la imagen mítica de Robert Capa fue tomada lejos del frente de batalla", El Periodico
  18. "Faking Soldier: The photographic evidence that Capa's camera DOES lie... and that his iconic 'Falling Soldier' was staged", Daily Mail
  19. Arts Beat blog: "New Doubts Raised Over Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’", New York Times, August 17, 2009
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Quote: But they do not include negatives of the famous photograph. Randy Kennedy, "The Capa Cache", New York Times, Jan. 27, 2008.
  21. Young, Cynthia. (2010). The Mexican Suitcase. Vol. 1. The Story. International Center of Photography. New York, pp.14-15
  22. Kennedy, Randy (January 27, 2008). "The Capa Cache". The New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2008. 
  23. Travelling exhibitions: This Is War! Robert Capa at Work, International Center of Photography


External links[]

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