Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Matinee: 'Robert Capa: In Love and War' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

8 February 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the nineteenth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Robert Capa: In Love and War.

This one hour and twenty-three minute PBS American Masters production is from 2003.

The handsome Hungarian Andre Friedman fled Nazi Germany with nothing but a camera, making friends with the photographers David Seymour (Chim) and Cartier-Bresson. The three used compact 35mm cameras, new to the world then, which allowed them to get close to their subjects.

Just a few years before, he had escaped Hungary for Berlin to meet the future. And it was photography.

To write with light, his brother Cornell explains, was just the thing for the immigrants whose limited language made it otherwise difficult for them to communicate.

With a Leica in his pocket, he went to Copenhagen to photograph Trotsky in exile, delivering a speech. It was his breakthrough scoop but then Hitler came to power and he fled the country.

But he never forgot where he came from. He had a chip on his shoulder, his friends observe, remaining a displaced person all his life.

Paris, despite his two friends, was not welcoming. French editors didn't give him any work.

But in 1935, he fell in love with Gerda Taro, who spoke French among other languages and cleaned him up, combing his hair and putting him in a suit. You can see the transformation in her stills. She introduces the more appealing version of Friedman to her editors but it isn't quite enough.

So she sells his photographs as the work of the exclusive Robert Capa, a play on the director Robert Capra's name. And they are published. And admired. When the ruse is discovered, he changes his name to Robert Capa.

"It's like being born again," he explains to his mother, "without hurting anybody."

Capa takes his Leica to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, in which civilians, not simply military forces, were attacked. With his small camera he is close enough to capture their faces. He photographs the people in terror, fleeing the bombs. He photographs them at the morgue, looking for their loved ones.

Among them, his Gerda, who was killed when a wayward tank ran over the car whose running boards she was riding on.

His loss prepared him, perhaps, to become the only photographer in the first wave of the invasion of Normandy. What did he have to lose?

Only 11 images were salvaged when a lab assistant in London ruined most of the film. Life magazine published the surviving images. Capa stayed with the troops, parachuting into the Rhine Valley and liberating Paris with them.

He was 32 when the war ended and he met Ingrid Bergman. She fell in love with him. And he considered getting out of war photography and into Hollywood.

The film jumps around after that but the story remains riveting as he chronicles the century. Which is what kept him from marrying Bergman, who had offered to get a divorce, or anyone else.

In 1947 he co-founded Magnum Photos, a cooperative of independent photographers. Chim and Cartier-Bresson joined him. English photographer George Roger signed on as well. They would retain the rights to their own work, licensing it to publications, instead of being employed by those publications which, in turn, would own the work.

While the film shows many of Capa's black and white images, none of his color images are included. After World War II, he fufilled many of his magazine assignments in color. And he took a few during the war, too. Fortunately, Magnum posted a Capa in Color slideshow of 159 of his color images, based on the book of the same name. And accompanying exhibition is being held at the International Center of Photography in New York) through May 4.

His career didn't last long enough to enjoy any other innovations. He stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1954. He was 40 years old. The name on his tombstone was the one Gerda had given him.

BackBack to Photo Corners