Robert Capa

Essay by kookookrnboi August 2005

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Robert Capa was the son of middle class Jewish parents, he was born Endre Friedmann in Budapest in what was then Austro-Hungary. He grew up under the dictatorship of Regent Nicholas Horthy but accepted the ideas of his role models, artist Lajos Kassák. Kassák's anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist, pro-labor, and pacifist beliefs influenced Capa and the rest of his life. At age 18 Capa was arrested by the secret police for his political activities. He was released through the intervention of his father but was banished from Hungary until further notice.

Moving to Berlin in 1931, he worked as a darkroom assistant at Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst), the leading photo-journalist enterprise in Germany. This agency was distinguished by its use of the new small cameras and fast film that allowed photographers to capture fleeting gestures and to take pictures even in poor light. With these advances the photographer could focus on human events and move away from the carefully posed rows of diplomats that had characterized news photography until then.

Capa soon mastered the new cameras and was occasionally sent out on small photographic assignments. In his first major break, he was sent to Copenhagen to photograph Leon Trotsky. His photos of an impassioned Trotsky addressing the crowd captured Trotsky's charismatic oratorical style.

With Hitler's rise to power, Capa eventually moved to Paris. There he met Gerda Pohorylles, who called herself Gerda Taro, and fell in love with her. She wrote the text for his stories and acted as his agent. Taro found she could charge much more for a photo taken by a "rich American" photographer named Robert Capa than she could for the photographs of a poor Hungarian named Endre Friedmann. Thus the internationally known Robert Capa was born.

Capa and Taro were sent to Spain to cover the...