Robert Capa (real name Endre Ernő Friedmann), born October 22, 1913 in Budapest and died May 25, 1954 in Indochina, is a Hungarian photographer and war correspondent.
Coming from a non-practicing Hungarian Jewish bourgeois family, he is the second son of Dezsö Friedmann and Julianna (or Julia) Berkovits, owners of a sewing workshop in Pest. Despite good studies, he had a restless adolescence, frequenting revolutionary communist circles. At seventeen he was arrested for participating in the anti-fascist activities of leftist students. The regime frees him on the condition of leaving Hungary.
Therefore, in 1931 he left his native country for Berlin. He aspires to a career in journalism. Thanks to a childhood friend, he found his first job as an apprentice developer in a Berlin photography agency. Without passion for photography, he embarks on this path because it is the profession that most resembles journalism for the young man. At the same time, he enrolled at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik to study political science from 1931 to 1933.
He meets Simon Guttmann, head of the Dephot agency (Deutscher Photodienst). The agency provided him with a Leica camera to work as an assistant and report. He left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power, went to Vienna, but chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss established a clerical-fascist dictatorship there, so he finally emigrated to Paris in the fall of 1934.
He met Henri Cartier-Bresson in the cafes of Montparnasse, as well as other Jewish emigrants like him, such as “Chim” (David Seymour), André Kertész, Pierre Gassmann, etc. He decides to francize his first name and is now called “André Friedmann”. In the café A Capoulade, in September 1934 he met Gerda Taro, a german anti-fascist student of Polish origin, who was an assistant and became a photographer. They become lovers in 1935. He frequents the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists where she is registered, like his main friends or fellow photographers. The magazine VU offers him the opportunity to produce a report on the Saar, a place of growing tensions between France and Germany, and thus to obtain his first press card.
In the spring of 1935, he made a first stay in Spain for a series of reports. In 1936, Taro invented an american photographer of which André would only be the assistant. Her photos selling very badly, she makes him take a pseudonym: “Robert Capa“, which sounds more American and is easier to pronounce. With this pseudonym of Robert « Bob » Capa, he creates a character, an American photographer, chic, rich, social and seductive.
He continued his career under this pseudonym, covering in particular the conflicts of the first half of the 20th century.
While Robert Capa returned from Spain to Paris, Gerda Taro died on July 26, 1937, accidentally crushed by a Republican tank during the fighting at the Battle of Brunete. Until the end of her life, Capa will like to say that he and Gerda were united by marriage. In 1947, he founded with David Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert and George Rodger the Magnum photographic cooperative.
In 1954, Life magazine was looking for a photographer to cover the war in Indochina. Robert Capa volunteers. Thus, he travels through Vietnam alongside French troops. On May 25, wanting to take a general picture of a group of French soldiers, he strayed from the path where the troops were advancing and set foot on a mine. He succumbs to his injuries.
Robert Capa is buried near New York.
It was in the mid-1930s and in particular when he met Gerda Taro that Robert Capa‘s career began. In 1936 he left as a special envoy to cover the Spanish Civil War. He will sign a world-famous photo of a downed Republican soldier. This photo is still controversial today.
He works for Vu, Regards, The Illustrated London News and Ce soir magazines.
He collaborated in 1938 with Life magazine to follow the Second Sino-Japanese War. With the start of the Second World War in Europe he had to leave Paris and rejoin his family in New York. He was commissioned by Collier’s magazine to cover the North African front in 1942, he continued his work in Europe for Life. On June 6, 1944, still for Life, he was one of the few photographers present during the Normandy landings. One of the most striking photos taken by Capa on D-Day is of an Allied soldier barely exiting his landing craft.
Capa‘s work during the disembarkation is also questionable. The official version indicates of Capa would have taken a hundred photos but that following a bad handling of a laboratory technician of the magazine Life there would be only 11. Some specialists affirm that Capa could not take as many photos and that he would have simply fled the violence of the fighting, taking only 11 photos.
He continued to follow the progress of the Allied armed forces to Berlin in September 1945.
After the war, he had a one-year affair with actress Ingrid Bergman. He met her in Paris on June 6, 1945. In December 1945, he followed her to Hollywood, where he worked as a fashion photographer and still photographer for American International Pictures, notably on the Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious.
In 1947 he co-founded the Magnum cooperative. He continued his work as a photographer and war correspondent until his accidental death.
Although these two most famous photographs still fuel controversy today, Robert Capa has left us with some striking photographs. He knew how to capture the moments and the looks.