Capa, Robert

Photojournalist Robert Capa became known as one of the greatest war photographers of the 20th century and founder of the world-famous photo agency, Magnum.

Profession: Photojournalist
Country of Origin: Hungary
Country of Asylum: Germany
Country of Transit: France
Date of birth: 22 October 1913
Died: 1954

Born Endre Erno Friedmann, he fled from his native Hungary at the age of 17, after being branded as a subversive for demonstrating against the fascist regime of Admiral Mikols Horthy. He moved to Berlin with the intention of studying journalism. To support himself, he began working as a darkroom assistant for a well-known photojournalist. For his first shoot, he was sent to Denmark to cover a talk by Leon Trotsky. Two years later he fled Germany as Hitler came to power. The family and friends Capa left behind in Hungary died in Nazi concentration camps.

In Paris, where he settled, Capa met and fell in love with German-born photojournalist Greta Pohorylle, also a Jewish refugee. It was she who persuaded him to change his name to Capa, while she took the name Greta Taro. The two became famous for their coverage of the Spanish Civil War from the Loyalist side.

By the age of 25, Capa was already hailed as the world’s greatest war photographer. His photographs portrayed the full spectrum of the emotions of war – from the elation of Franco’s troops entering Madrid in 1936, to long columns of defeated forces walking into exile in France, and the dejection of Spaniards behind chain-link fences in refugee camps in 1939.

In July 1937, his wife was killed in a car accident. Some say Capa never got over it, soothing his pain by gambling and drinking, mixing with celebrities and living dangerously. One of his mottoes was: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.

Yet his brother Cornell noted: “Bob was actually a peace photographer. His kind of photography was not war, but the ordinary people it involves.”

Capa recorded people’s attempts to retain a sense of normality during war, often focusing on what happened off the battlefield. His new perspective was aided by the introduction of the lightweight Leica camera.

He went on to cover World War II, capturing on film the allied victories in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. Parachuting with the Americans into Germany, he chronicled the fall of Leipzig, Nuremberg and Berlin. At the end of the war, he joked about having business cards printed that read: Robert Capa, War Photographer, Unemployed.

In fact, his career entered a new phase. In 1945 he met Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman and started a two-year relationship that brought him into Hollywood circles. During this time he made famous portraits of Gary Cooper and Gene Kelly, and made friends such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, John Huston and Truman Capote.

In 1947 Capa co-founded the Magnum photo agency, together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour and others. But he did not stop covering conflicts. He died in 1954 after stepping on a land mine while reporting on the French Indochina war.