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Robert Capa Photo

Robert Capa Artworks

Hungarian Photographer

Born: October 22, 1913 - Budapest, Hungary
Died: May 25, 1954 - Thái Bình, Vietnam

Progression of Art


The Falling Soldier

In this iconic photograph a loyalist soldier is shown mere moments after being fatally shot. Isolated in a barren field, the soldier's body falls backward; his knees buckling and arms flailing. The rifle he was clutching in his right hand has begun to loosen from his grip. Full of movement and stillness, this grainy black and white image is emblematic of photography's singular ability to capture what photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the "decisive moment." Unflinchingly direct in its depiction of sudden death, Capa's photograph is now widely considered to be the most famous war photograph ever made.

The photograph's dramatic composition - of a soldier's outstretched arms near the moment of death - is reminiscent of Francisco Goya's The Third of May 1808 (1814), which illustrates another key moment in the history of modern Spain. This image, taken during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), is from the first military campaign that Capa shot during his career as a war correspondent. The Falling Soldier is characteristic of his approach to photography and his uncanny ability to capture the most dramatic moments of war with startling realism. With this photograph Capa initiated a new form of photojournalism, which was made possible in part by the introduction of the handheld 35-mm Leica camera. The Leica allowed for maximum mobility and quick exposures, thus bringing photography onto the battlefield in a way had been impossible during World War I (when larger tripod-mounted cameras and glass plate negatives made instantaneous shooting untenable). The Falling Soldier brought Capa instant notoriety and, more importantly, it set the bar for war photography in the decades that followed. By 1938, at the age of twenty-five, Capa was hailed by the British magazine Picture Post, "the greatest war photographer in the world."

Controversial from the start, viewers were stunned by the photograph's violence when it first appeared in various European magazines, including Vu (1936), Paris-Soir (1937), and Regards (1937). Journalist Alex Kershaw has noted that when the image appeared in a 1937 Life magazine spread, "several readers wrote angrily to the editor complaining about such graphic depiction of violence. No such image had ever appeared in the homes of Middle America." In the ensuing years, further controversy has surrounded the authenticity of the photograph and whether or not it was staged for the camera. Some have claimed that the photograph was made during training exercises, rather than in the heat of battle, while others have disputed the location where the photograph was made. Kershaw reminds us that despite the controversy, "what has never been in doubt is that the publication of The Falling Soldier marked a point of no return. The photograph ensured..." that Robert Capa would be remembered as, "...the American photographer so daring, so determined to get as close as possible to the intensity of war, that he was even able to record the very instant of a man's death."

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Man carrying a wounded boy, Battle of Teruel, Spain

Here Capa focuses in on the face of a man who visibly struggles under the weight of the wounded child he carries in his arms. This close focus on the individual was a means of re-personalizing the war and its effects. Wearing a hat, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, the man carries the young boy to safety in the aftermath of the siege of the Spanish hilltop town of Teruel. The young boy, whose left arm is slung across the man's chest, has been seriously injured, his right pant leg ripped open exposing his bare thigh and its blood-soaked bandage.

This photograph is one of a series of images Capa took while photographing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. It is an excellent example of Capa's desire to show the devastating impact of war on everyday people in a way that the public could identify. According to journalist Alex Kershaw, through these important images, Capa sought to memorialize "the saddest faces of war," and "in so doing, he became the first photographer to bring the full horror of war into the homes of readers around Europe and beyond. In his images, the battle for Spain was pitiless, sparing none." For Capa, photographing the Spanish Civil War was about more than photographing the frontlines, it was also about telling the stories of those affected by it.

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of International Center of Photography, New York


An American medic treats a captured German soldier, Sicily, July 1943

In this 1943 photograph by Robert Capa an American medic treats an injured German soldier recently captured by Allied forces. A closely cropped image, taken from the side, it shows a medic, wearing a helmet and white medical armband, as he treats a visibly bloodied German soldier. His eyes closed, the German soldier seems remarkably calm in the aftermath of a long and arduous battle that ended with his capture. This image is emblematic of Capa's ability, even in the face of unspeakable acts, to humanize his subjects and imbue his photographs with narrative and feeling.

Despite his relative fame as a war photographer, it was not until 1943 that he was officially sent to North Africa as a correspondent. Traveling with the U.S. Army, Capa followed the troops into battle first in North Africa and later in Sicily in the summer of 1943, where this photograph was taken. The sheer exhaustion of the German soldiers, who were captured after a week-long siege in the hills of Sicily, is palpable in Capa's photograph. Throughout his career as a photojournalist, Capa was committed to showing the harsh realities of war, from the heroism of the Allied soldiers, to the defeat and capture of the German forces. As journalist Alex Kershaw has written, "Capa's photographs expressed better than words the awful truth of the Italian campaign."

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of International Center of Photography, New York


US troops' first assault on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. Normandy, France, June 6, 1944

In this famous war photograph, Robert Capa captured the American soldiers' first assault on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. In the foreground, a young soldier crawls ashore with his gun at the ready. Slightly out of focus, in grainy black and white, we are just able to make out the soldier's determined face. Other indeterminate forms emerge from the murky water. The focus here is the single American soldier and his fight to stay alive. Capa, who was embedded with the American troops at the time, jumped from the boat and while dodging bullets from German soldiers positioned on land, he turned to photograph the American soldiers as they made way on to Omaha Beach. Of that day he later stated, "my beautiful France looked sordid and uninviting [but] a German machine gun, spitting bullets around the barrage, fully spoiled my return. I saw men falling and I had to push past their bodies, which I did politely."

In his photographs of the D-Day landings Capa succeeded in capturing some of the most important and iconic moments of World War II. This image, in particular, demonstrates Capa's tenacity as a war photographer. According to his then photo editor at Life magazine, John Morris, "in order to take that photo Capa had to get ahead of that soldier and turn his back on the action. It was quite remarkable and an indicator of Capa's courage. I think that photo stands out because it humanizes the invasion. There is a single man walking ashore."

Now identified as private first class, Huston "Hu" Riley, 16th Regiment, Company F, the soldier in Capa's photograph landed on shore and was shot as he tried to outrun the gunfire. Riley later said that he was saved by "a buck sergeant... and a photographer with a camera around his neck... All I could think of was, 'What in the hell is this guy doing here?'"

This image is indicative of Capa's work and his desire to capture, "...a cut of the whole event which will show more of the real truth of the affair to someone who was not there than the whole scene." It is said that Capa took a total of four rolls of film on D-Day, the 6th June 1944, which he carried himself to London and sent by courier to his editors at Life magazine. Whether by some unfortunate darkroom accident or by other means, only eleven images from a single roll of film survived ("the magnificent eleven"). The film from the other photographers on Omaha Beach that day were all destroyed, making Capa's photographs, "the only complete photographic record of the worst hours of the invasion."

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of Magnum Photos


American soldier killed by a German sniper, Leipzig, Germany

Taken in the final days of World War II, this photograph captured the death of an American soldier just seconds after he was shot by a German sniper. The young soldier had been standing on the balcony with a machine gun at the ready. Caught unaware by a hidden sniper, his lifeless body has fallen backward over the threshold, a pool of blood near his head. Stunned by the sniper fire, a soldier looks out over the railing to determine the source of the bullets; while two other soldiers crouch for cover in the apartment's interior room. American soldier killed by a German sniper is among Capa's most poignant photographs of the war, demonstrating photography's uncanny ability to capture these dramatic and singular moments on film.

Often erroneously referred to as "the last man to die" in World War II, the photograph of 21-year-old Raymond J. Bowman was among the last photographs Capa made in April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war. On the day this photograph was taken thousands of Nazi Germans surrendered to allied forces. At the time, Capa was traveling with the US 2nd Infantry Division. To take the photograph, he climbed through a balcony window and positioned himself in the room as the American soldiers manned a heavy machine gun above the streets of Leipzig.

By this time, Capa had spent four years covering the War for various news outlets. He spoke of the importance of this image during a 1947 radio interview: "I got in a nice bourgeois apartment where there was a nice young man on the balcony - a young sergeant who was [setting up] a heavy machine-gun. I took a picture of him. But, God, the war was over. Who wanted to see one more picture of somebody shooting? We had been doing that same picture now for four years [...]. But he looked so clean-cut like it was the first day of the war and he was very earnest. So I said, 'All right, this will be my last picture of the war.' And I put my camera up and took a portrait shot of him and while I shot my portrait of him he was killed by a sniper. It was a very clean and somehow a very beautiful death, and I think that's what I remember most from this war."

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of International Center of Photography, New York


Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, Golfe-Juan, France

In this lighthearted photograph by Robert Capa, the legendary Pablo Picasso is shown walking along the beach carrying a large umbrella to shade his young lover Françoise Gilot from the sun. Smiling broadly, the twenty-six-year-old Gilot strides confidently toward the camera in her long flowing dress and straw hat, while a smiling Picasso follows behind with an umbrella that is better suited to providing seaside shade than carrying like a parasol. In the background, the procession is completed with Picasso's nephew Javier Vilato. A masterful composition, the photograph was taken from a low vantage point, which makes the three figures appear in descending scale, from Gilot in the foreground to Picasso's nephew in middle ground.

While Capa is best known for his war photographs, his portrait of Picasso and Gilot is an important example of the artist's lighter side. Capa had a lively social life, surrounding himself with a circle of talented and famous friends, including Picasso. He spent several days photographing the couple and their one-year-old son Claude in August 1948, while on assignment in the south of France for the British magazine Illustrated. As Gilot later recalled, "We were clowning... Capa was a friend, so it was not formal at all. He took the picture in the spirit of the moment."

Like Picasso, Gilot was a talented painter. Despite her skill, Picasso told her at their first meeting that "Girls who look like you could never be painters." The couple had met in France during the occupation, before Picasso had officially separated from his wife Olga Khokhlova. They had a tumultuous ten-year affair and had two children together before Gilot left him. She later moved to the United States where she married Dr. Jonas Salk, who pioneered the polio vaccine.

Silver Gelatin Print - Collection of International Center of Photography, New York


Immigrant families wait to be assigned a tent at the transit camp Shaar Alyjah, Israel

In this black and white photograph, a group of men, women, and children - some seated, some standing - are shown with their belongings, shielding themselves from the heat of the sun. Captured unaware, the newly-arrived immigrants wait to speak to an unseen individual at the table to the right. From the man in the overcoat and hat to the seated women in the foreground, Capa alluded to the diversity of people that came to the newly formed state of Israel in search of a better life.

Taken in the years between 1949 and 1951, this photograph is one of a series of images shot during Capa's time in Israel. Over the course of several trips, he photographed the founding of the state on May 14, 1948, the first Arab-Israeli conflict, and the vast influx of refugees and immigrants in the two years that followed. "Israel," Capa once stated, "is the crudest and hardest place one can inhabit today. But it is a place where one hears the young people sing at night, and even the old ones talk about the bright future now awaiting them."

Here, as in other images, Capa humanizes his subjects by focusing in on the very real struggles that met the newly-arrived refugees. Having fled persecution himself at the start of WWII, he empathized with the plight of the Jewish people who found themselves caught up once again in historical events, events over which they had little control. As the above photograph makes clear, many refugees were forced to spend time in transit camps before they could be resettled in their new home. Capa later described them as "the 'people of the barbed wire' who have passed through scores of concentration camps in the last decade, reach the land of their dreams, only to be back once more behind barbed wire." It was through photographs, such as this one, that Capa tried to bring global attention to this injustice.

Gelatin Silver Print - Collection of International Center of Photography, New York

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Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Robert Capa Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 20 Oct 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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