Little refugee, Spanish Civil War, 1936
Vintage silver gelatin print
Born Andrei Freidmann in Budapest, Robert Capa left Hungary at 18 for an apprenticeship with a Berlin picture agency and to explore his interest in photography. Following Hitler's rise to power he left with his fiancée, Gerda Taro, for Paris, where he struggled to establish himself as a freelance journalist. It was there that the couple decided to form an association: Gerda the secretary and sales representative and Andrei the darkroom assistant were to be employed by the rich, famous, talented, and imaginary American photographer Robert Capa. Friedmann took the pictures, Gerda sold them, and credit was given to the non-existent Capa.
The secret was soon discovered by 'Vue' editor Lucien Vogel. He sent Capa and Gerda to Spain where Capa received immediate acclaim. Gerda stayed on and met her death on the battlefield. Grief-stricken, Capa left for China, where he documented the battle of Taierchwang, and returned to Europe to continue his coverage of the Spanish war.
In 1942, Capa joined the invasion convoy to North Africa where he left his post at 'Collier's' to join the staff of 'Life'. He then joined the paratroops in Sicily, and after the winter campaign of 1943-4, returned to London.
In June 1944, Capa landed at Omaha Beach and exposed 4 rolls of the most famous films in history. Sadly all but 11 frames were ruined in the overheated drying cabinet of 'Life's' London darkroom. Nonetheless, 'Life' and the world press published the surviving images, and Capa maintained his franchise as the most colourful war photographer.
By the end of the 1940s, Capa was closely involved with his friends Henri Cartier-Bresson, David 'Chim' Seymour, George Rodger, and William Vandivert in the birth of Magnum photos. He quickly became an international businessman, selling and stimulating the work of the agency.
In 1954 Capa went to Japan with a Magnum exhibition, and volunteered to photograph the Indochina front for 'Life'. On May 25th, he was found dead still clutching his camera. In his memory, the Overseas Press Club established the Robert Capa Award for 'superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad'.