Terror through the eyes of a pacifist
INGRID BERGMAN wanted to leave her husband for him, but Robert Capa,
brave and intrepid photographer, was too afraid of commitment. ''I'm
not the marrying kind,'' he told her. Life magazine editors sent
him to war after war.
circle of friends included the most eccentric and prolific of artists,
among them Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. On collaborations,
he only worked with the best. John Steinbeck, Irwin Shaw and Theodore
White were among the writers to share his byline.
once said: ''If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close
enough.'' It became the professional's credo.
His passion for photojournalism led him to found Magnum, reputedly
the world's best photo agency, with Henri Cartier Bresson and David
One of the greatest photographers, Capa was born Endre Friedmann
in 1913 in Budapest. He developed a keen interest in politics and
social reforms and was influenced greatly by the photography of
Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, two American pioneers of documentary
At 17, he was exiled from Hungary for leftist activities and went
to a Berlin University to study journalism with the ambition of
becoming a great writer. But a decline in his parents' fashion business
forced him to quit and he took a job as an errand boy with Dephot
photography agency in Germany.
His enthusiasm and talent were soon discovered and he was sent to
photograph Leon Trotsky in Copenhagen. His work took him to Paris,
but the big break was nowhere on the horizon.
In 1936, believing he needed a more striking name, he decided on
the byline Robert Capa, and, with his girlfriend Gerda Taro, he
made editors believe he was a famous American photographer and they
paid him inflated prices.
Many myths surround the name, but the most popular is that he wanted
to be confused with American film director Frank Capra.
By the time the ploy was exposed, Capa was already a household name
in magazine circles.
In his short career, he earned the title of the world's greatest
Richard Whelan, his most authoritative biographer, said it was inaccurate
to merely label him a ''war photographer''. Capa's mastery, he wrote,
lay in his great ability to tell stories of individuals.
A typical picture of a war zone is cold and distant. But Capa's
pictures, his admirers argue, personalise the ills of combat, and,
by showing the distraught faces of individuals, his pictures are
loaded with a strong anti-war message.
He had a mission: Show people the horror of war and, hopefully,
they will stop fighting.
One might expect that Capa, a man of courage and valour, enjoyed
living on the edge. But he always proclaimed himself a pacifist.
Whelan wrote: ''Capa hated war for what it did to the individuals
who were caught in it - as he himself was. Although he was brave
and adapted well to the rigours of military life in the field, he
was fundamentally a pacifist ...''
He once told an interviewer: ''War is like an ageing actress: more
and more dangerous and less and less photogenic.
''I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of
Quite a contradiction from the man who also said: ''To miss an invasion
is like refusing a date with Lana Turner.''
Journalism teachers and practitioners preach the virtue of objectivity.
In this, Capa failed miserably. His pictures show his bias and he
spoke proudly of his subjectivity.
He believed that if a war was unavoidable, then let justice win.
To gain support for the government during the Spanish Civil War,
he portrayed the courage and determination of the soldiers.
At Normandy, where he took some of his best pictures, he reportedly
put his cameras down to help wounded men from a sinking vessel.
Looking at the pictures, one can see he was invariably at the hottest
actions, taking extraordinary risks: in Mexico, Spain, France, China
His pictures display remarkable compassion for the subjects. Although
he shows bodies, his shots convey the dignity, determination and
fearlessness of the victims.
Perhaps this was his greatest contribution: elevating photojournalism
to the highest levels of integrity, while his daredevil gambles,
moving pictures and charisma made the profession glamorous.
The many prestigious pillars of photojournalism today are indebted
to Capa, Magnum Photo Agency being just one example.
In 1974, Cornell Capa founded the International Center of Photography
in New York in memory of his brother and other war photographers.
Today, it houses one of the best photography collections and administers
the prestigious annual Infinity Award.
The Overseas Press Club of America established the Robert Capa Award
for ''superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and
enterprise abroad''. The winners include Larry Burrows, W. Eugene
Smith and Susan Meiselas.