Robert Capa was born Andre Friedmann and studied political science at the University of Berlin from 1931 to 1933. He was also a self taught photographer. In 1932-33 he worked as a photography assistant at a news agency. In 1933 he emigrated to Paris (due to the rise of Nazism in his homeland) and changed his name to Robert Capa and began work as a freelance photographer. He took photographs of the Spanish Civil War which drew large amounts of attention to his name in Paris. His first series included a photograph called death of a Spanish Loyalist which can be seen below. This photograph is his most famous photograph (below) and is in fact a photograph of a man being shot and falling to his death. The photograph of this mans death has been confirmed by his government and the name of the man has been identified.
From this point on he traveled to China, Italy, France, Germany and Israel. He photographed 5 major wars: The Spanish Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israel War and the first Indo China War.
Robert Capa on assignment in Spain, using a Filmo 16mm movie camera by Gerda Taro
Some of his most famous work came out of World War II. It’s an amazing and true story. Robert Capa was aboard with Troops as they washed ashore for the first assault on D-Day, June 6th 1944. He was prepared with two cameras and a lot of film. He took 108 pictures within the first couple of hours of the invasion. Robert made it out of this situation alive and ensured his film made it to the darkroom of ‘Life Magazine’. At this point one of the lab technicians made the mistake of setting the dryer too high which in turn ruined the pictures. Only 8 frames in total were salvaged.
When Life Magazine printed the photographs in their publication they contained captions which included language such as ‘slightly out of focus’ they claimed which was due in large part to Capa’s stress and excitement for being on this particular D-Day battlefield. Capa denied the statement and claims that the pictures were ruined in the darkroom, not by his ‘shaky’ hands. In fact, Capa’s humour shines through when he publishes his autobiographical account of the war which he titles ‘Slightly Out of Focus’.
In may of 1954 he was fatally injured in Thai-Binh, Vietnam. His death was a tragic consequence of his motto ‘if your pictures aren’t good enough, your not close enough‘ quote.
Robert Capa gained great admiration because he could portray strong human emotion and reality in his war photographs. Capa’s photos are known to the intersection of where the human spirit seeks to live and at the same time walks into self destruction. His work served as a manifesto against war, against injustice and against oppression.
Here is a discussion of his work on The Art Of Photography