born: October 22, 1913 Hungary
died: May 25, 1954 (killed by a land mine)
Born in Hungary as Endré Ernõ Friedmann, Robert Capa was one of the best and most fearless war photographers of his time. He first gained prominence photographing the Spanish Civil War with his partner and lover, Gerda Taro.
Robert Capa Timeline
Robert Capa was born on October 22, in Hungary, as Endré Ernõ Friedmann.
Capa was exiled from Hungary due to his leftist student activities. He went to Berlin and studied Journalism at the Deutsche Hochschule fũr Politik.
He got a job as errand boy and lab assistant at Dephot, a German picture agency. The director soon started sending him out to cover local events. Capa’s first published story concerned a lecture given by Leon Trotsky in November 1932, on the history of the Russian revolution.
Capa left Berlin after Hitler rose to power, ending up in Paris by September.
In Paris, Capa met Gerta Pohorylle (aka Gerda Taro), a refugee who had been forced to leave Germany for her involvement in Socialist and anti-Nazi activities. The two became romantically involved. Capa taught her photography and she helped run his burgeoning photography business.
Capa and Taro invented an imaginary photographer named “Robert Capa,” as a marketing device. They sold their own photos as the work of “Robert Capa, a famous American photographer.” Soon “Endré Friedmann” took the name for himself, and “Gerta Pohorylle” became “Gerda Taro.” Their photos were then marketed as the work of “Capa & Taro.”
Capa and Taro went to Spain to photograph the civil war. One of the shots to come out of this trip, which may be his most famous and striking photograph, is a photo of a Spanish Republican soldier at the instant he was shot, falling backwards and about to drop his rifle. Commonly known as “The Falling Soldier,” when it was published, in 1936, no one had seen anything like it. (There is an unresolved controversy over whether the photo was real or staged. Capa was known to set up some of his photos. Some even claim that the soldier might have been killed while posing for Capa’s camera. There seems to be intriguing evidence for all 3 theories.)
Robert Capa returned to France, while Gerda Taro stayed in Spain to keep photographing.
On July 25, 1937, the car Gerda Taro was riding on was accidentally hit by a Republican tank while retreating from the battle of Brunete. She died the next day from her wounds.
He was back in Spain in December to cover the battle of Teruel.
Capa spent 6 months covering the Japanese invasion of China.
He left France for America, ahead of the Nazi invasion, leaving behind many negatives, including “The Falling Soldier,” packed in what later came to be known as “The Mexican Suitcase.”
He went to Mexico to document the presidential campaigns and election for Life magazine.
He covered wartime London.
In February, Capa met and fell in love with Elaine Justin. They were together until 1945.
In July, 1943, he parachuted into Sicily with the Allied paratroopers. He spent the rest of the year covering the Italian campaign, including the liberation of Naples.
Capa covered the Allied landing at Anzio in January.
He landed on Omaha beach at Normandy on D-Day 1944, capturing another of his iconic images: a blurry shot of a soldier crawling toward the beach on his belly in shallow water. Unfortunately, most of his film from that day was accidentally ruined by a lab assistant at Life magazine. Capa followed the troops on the campaign to liberate Paris, and then covered the Battle of the Bulge.
He parachuted into Germany to cover the taking of Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Berlin.
He worked as the photographer on the Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious, which starred Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. He began a 2-year love affair with Ingrid Bergman.
Robert Capa became a US citizen.
Capa co-founded Magnum Photos. For the next few years, he cut back on his photography to mentor new Magnum photographers. He travelled to the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck. Later in the year he visited Czechoslovakia and Budapest.
1948 – 1950
Capa travelled to Israel 3 times to cover the independence, the subsequent fighting, and the Jewish refugee problem.
1950 – 1953
He was the director of Magnum Photos’ Paris office.
Capa went to Indochina (now known as Vietnam) to photograph the French war there for Life magazine.
On May 25, 1954, Robert Capa was travelling with a convoy in the Red River Delta. When the convoy stopped, Capa followed a group of soldiers into a field to get some photos. He took at least one photo, which survives, before he stepped on a land mine and was killed.
Cornell Capa, Robert’s brother, founded the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, to preserve the photographic legacy of photographers like his brother.
Three cardboard boxes containing the lost Robert Capa negatives, the “Mexican Suitcase” images, were discovered to be in the possession of a Mexican family, descendants of a Mexican general and diplomat.
The three boxes of negatives from the “Mexican Suitcase” were donated to the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.