Robert Capa

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

Robert Capa (born Endre Friedmann;[1] October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer, photo journalist and also the companion and professional partner of photographer Gerda Taró. He covered five 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 the Jewish family of Júlia (née Berkovits) and Dezső Friedmann in Budapest, Austria-Hungary October 22, 1913. His mother, Julianna Henrietta Berkovits was a native of Nagy Kapos (now Velke Kapusany, Slovakia) and Dezső Friedmann came from the Transylvanian village of Csucsa (now Ciucea, Romania). Deciding that there was little future under the regime in Hungary after World War I, 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, and persecution of Jewish journalists and photographers, but found it difficult to find work as a freelance journalist. He had to conceal his Jewish name (Friedmann), and 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[edit]

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. The authenticity of the photograph is today in doubt, with scholars questioning its location, the identity of its subject, and the discovery of staged photographs taken at the same time and place.

World War II[edit]

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 after he was fired by Collier's. He was the only "enemy alien" photographer for the Allies.

The photo of Sperlinga, an icon in the world of the U.S. Allied landing in Europe[edit]

During July and August 1943 Capa was in Sicily with American troops, near Sperlinga, Nicosia and Troina. The Francais were advancing toward Troina, a strategically located town which controlled the road to Messina (Sicily's main port to the Italian mainland). The town was heavily defended by the Germans Nazis, 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, very near the Castle of Sperlinga, in the district of Contrada Capostrà of the medieval Sperlinga village. The picture of Sperlinga, a few weeks later, became very popular, not only in the US but around all the world, as a symbol of the Allied US Army landings in Sicily and the liberation of Italy from the Nazis.[5]

On October 7, 1943 Robert Capa was in Naples with Life reporter Will Lang Jr., and there he photographed the Naples post office bombing.[6]

Omaha beach[edit]

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 inside the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall. While under constant fire, Capa took 106 pictures, all but eleven were destroyed in a photo lab accident back in London.[7]

"The picture of the last man to die"[edit]

Main article: Raymond J. Bowman

On April 18, 1945, Capa captured images of a fight to secure a bridge in Leipzig, Germany. These pictures included an image of Raymond J. Bowman's death by sniper fire. This image became famous in a spread in Life magazine with the caption "The picture of the last man to die."[8]

Russia and Israel[edit]

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. While there, he took the numerous photographs that accompanied Irwin Shaw's book, Report on Israel.

First Indochina War and death[edit]

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 pm, 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.[9]

He is buried in plot #189 at Amawalk Hill Cemetery (also called Friends Cemetery), Amawalk, Westchester County, New York along with his mother, Julia, and his brother, Cornell Capa.


Publications by Capa[edit]

  • The Battle of Waterloo Road. New York: Random House, 1941. OCLC 654774055. Photographs by Capa. With a text by Diana Forbes-Robertson.
  • Invasion!. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century, 1944. OCLC 1022382. Photographs by Capa. With text by Charles Wertenbaker.
  • Slightly Out of Focus. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1947. New York: Modern Library, 2001. ISBN 9780375753961. Text and photographs by Capa. With a foreword by Cornell Capa and an introduction by Richard Whelan. A memoir.
  • Images of War. New York: Grossman, 1964. Text and photographs by Capa. OCLC 284771. With a text by John Steinbeck.
  • Robert Capa: Photographs. New York: Aperture, 1996. ISBN 978-0893816759. New York: Aperture, 2004.
  • Heart of Spain: Robert Capa's Photographs of the Spanish Civil War. New York: Aperture, 1999. ISBN 9780893818319. New York: Aperture, 2005. ISBN 978-1931788021.
  • Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection. London, New York: Phaidon, 2001. ISBN 9780714840673. London, New York: Phaidon, 2004. ISBN 978-0714844497. Edited by Richard Whelan.
  • Robert Capa at Work: This is War!. Göttingen: Steidl, 2009. ISBN 9783865219442. Photographs by Capa. With a foreword by Willis E. Hartshorn, an introduction by Christopher Phillips, and text by Richard Whelan. Published to accompany an exhibition at the International Center of Photography, New York, September 2007 – January 2008. "A detailed examination of six of Robert Capa's most important war reportages from the first half of his career: the Falling Soldier (1936), Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion (1938), the end of the Spanish Civil War in Catalonia (1938–39), D-Day, the US paratroop invasion of Germany and the liberation of Leipzig (1945)."[10]
    • Questa è la Guerra!: Robert Capa al Lavoro. Italy: Contrasto, 2009. ISBN 9788869651601. Published to accompany an exhibition in Milan, March–June 2009.[11]

Publications with others[edit]

  • Death in the Making. New York: Covici Friede, 1938. Photographs by Capa and Taro.
  • A Russian Journal. New York: Viking, 1948. Text by Steinbeck, illustrated with photographs by Capa.
  • Report on Israel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950. By Irwin Shaw and Capa.

Publications about Capa[edit]

Films about Capa[edit]

  • The Mexican Suitcase (2011). Documentary film directed by Trisha Ziff. It tells the story of three boxes of film negatives created during the Spanish Civil War by Seymour, Taro, and Capa, known as the Mexican Suitcase, that were recovered in 2007.

Personal life[edit]

Capa was born into a Jewish family in Budapest,[12] 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.[13]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.


Leipzig, Dr. jur. Ernst Kurt Lisso's suicide. Photo by Robert Capa.
  • 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.[14]

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."[15]

  • 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."[16]


Scholars have re-examined Capa's image of The Falling Soldier and disagreed about its authenticity.[17][18] 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.[19][20] 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.[21]

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.[22] While fleeing Europe in 1939, Capa had lost the collection, which over time came to be dubbed the "Mexican suitcase".[22]

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.[23] 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.[22][24]

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.[25]


As a young boy, Capa was drawn to the Munkakör (Employment 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), 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[edit]

  • In 2012, the Japanese Female Musical Theater group, Takarazuka Revue, produced a musical piece based on the life of Capa. Ms. Ouki Kaname performed the lead role as Capa. The group performed the musical in 2012 in Takarazuka and Tokyo and in 2014 in Nagoya.
  • In Patrick Modiano's novella Afterimage Capa is a mentor for the subject of the novella, Francis Jansen, a photographer who retires to Mexico.
  • In Alfred Hitchcock's movie Rear Window, the protagonist L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart) was partly based on Capa.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Capa, Robert". Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  2. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ "Castello di Sperlinga – Storia Castello di Sperlinga – XX e XXI secolo". 
  6. ^ Slightly Out of Focus, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1947, p.104
  7. ^ Simon Kuper, "Interview: John Morris on his friend Robert Capa", Financial Times, May 31, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  8. ^ "Bowman, Raymond J.". Retrieved April 23, 2016. 
  9. ^ Badenbroek, Michael. "Robert Capa – war photographer". Retrieved April 28, 2016. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Robert Capa", Jewish History, Hungary
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Overseas Press Club of America, Awards Archive.
  15. ^ "Robert Capa". Magnum Photos. Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. 
  16. ^ Ulrich, John (November 1, 2003). "Introduction: A (Sub)cultural Genealogy". In Andrea L. Harris. GenXegesis: Essays on Alternative Youth. p. 3. ISBN 9780879728625. 
  17. ^ Richard Whelan, Proving that Robert Capa's Falling Soldier is Genuine: a Detective Story, American Masters, PBS Website.
  18. ^ "Iconic Capa war photo was stage: newspaper", AFP
  19. ^ (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
  20. ^ "Faking Soldier: The photographic evidence that Capa's camera DOES lie... and that his iconic 'Falling Soldier' was staged", Daily Mail
  21. ^ Arts Beat blog: "New Doubts Raised Over Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’", New York Times, August 17, 2009
  22. ^ a b c Quote: But they do not include negatives of the famous photograph. Randy Kennedy, "The Capa Cache", New York Times, January 27, 2008.
  23. ^ Young, Cynthia. (2010). The Mexican Suitcase. Vol. 1. The Story. International Center of Photography. New York, pp.14–15
  24. ^ Kennedy, Randy (January 27, 2008). "The Capa Cache". The New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2008. 
  25. ^ Travelling exhibitions: This Is War! Robert Capa at Work, International Center of Photography
  26. ^ Belton, John (2000). Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (PDF). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-521-56423-9. 

External links[edit]