What made Capa the best action photographer in the world was his belief in and ability to get as close as possible to the action."If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough." he always said.
A photograph of communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky at a rally in Copenhagen led to his first major recognition. But it was his stunning image of the just-shot Spanish Republican soldier in Spain’s Civil War of the 1930s that catapulted him to international fame.
Regardless of severe personal risk he was always in the thick of combat and the resulting raw, brutally honest pictures became his hallmark. Even after more than 75 years, Falling Soldier is still considered the most famous photograph in the world.
Despite the horror of combat, Capa’s skill in capturing it meant that he covered wars in Spain, France, Italy, Palestine, China and Indochina, and although he stated, “I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life,” he could never permanently ignore the canvas on which his most impactful work was created.
Born Endre Friedmann in Budapest, he later changed his name to Robert Capa (meaning “shark” in Hungarian) to minimize discrimination as a Jew and help his work stand-out with what he thought was “an American sounding name.” From humble means and anonymity he worked his way to become one of the most famous photographers in history, changing forever the way combat photography is shot and the perception of war in the eyes of the public.
After taking a long hiatus from war assignments as a result of the severely traumatizing effects of his D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, Capa agreed to cover the First Indochina War in 1954. It was there, in Viet Nam, while trying to get closer to the fray, that Capa stepped on a land mine and died – with his hands firmly grasping a camera. He was just 40 years old.
Capa counted among his friends some of the most talented minds of the 20th century – Ernest Hemingway, Gerda Taro, Pablo Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Cooper, John Steinbeck, Henri Matisse and Ingrid Bergman. He was respected by his peers and most importantly by the soldiers with whom he suffered.
|Hemingway, Teruel, Spain||Picasso and grandchild, French Riviera||Gerda Taro and Capa|
|Gary Copper, Sun Valley, Idaho||Henri Matisse, Vence, France||Robert Capa|
The Men of Character features are strictly editorial. In no way does this article imply association with or endorsement from the Estate of Robert Capa.