Moments and missives from our world
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66 years ago today, a simple step in the wrong place permanently shut one of the most illuminating eyes of the 20th Century. On 25 May 1954, Robert Capa stepped on a landmine while photographing a French patrol in Indochina, and died at age 40.
John Steinbeck wrote, ““His camera caught and held emotion. Capa’s work is itself the picture of a great heart and an overwhelming compassion. No one can take his place. No one can take the place of any fine artist, but we are fortunate to have in his pictures the quality of the man.”
Capa photographed five wars in his career, beginning in Spain, continuing through China, World War II, Israel and finally Indochina. Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski used Capa’s nine surviving photographs from D-Day as guiding references for the first 24 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Recently, Time put together a piece on his iconic photos from that day:
Yeah, the dryer situation was bad.
Steinbeck continued, “I worked and traveled with Capa a great deal. He may have had closer friends but he had none who loved him more. It was his pleasure to seem casual and careless about his work. He was not. His pictures are not accidents. The emotion in them did not come by chance. He could photograph motion and gaiety and heartbreak. He could photograph thought. He captured a world, and it was Capa’s world.”
Steinbeck also thought Capa’s legacy moved far beyond his images. “He gathered young men about him, encouraged, instructed, even fed and clothed them, but best he taught them respect for their art and integrity in its performance. (Capa) proved to them that a man could live by this medium and still be true to himself. And never once did he try to get them to take his kind of picture. Thus the effect of Capa will be found in the men who worked with him. They will carry a little part of Capa all their lives and perhaps hand him on to their young men.”
Richard Whelan has edited numerous books of Capa’s work, and was chosen by Robert’s brother, Cornell, to write the story of Robert’s life. Above all,” wrote Whelan, “he left behind an extraordinary body of work that showed not only the nature of war as it had never been shown before, but also a tremendous sympathy for individuals in all kinds of circumstances, and a legend that would long continue to inspire other photographers.”
Barcelona, January 1939, © Robert Capa / Magnum Photos
At the tail end of the Spanish Civil War, Capa photographed a beautiful refugee child in Barcelona, and subsequently wrote, with his usual understatement, “It is not always easy to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the sufferings around one.”
Richard Whelan concluded his biography:, “Capa set a standard of bravery and compassion for all war photographers who have followed him, and he died… working in the tradition which he invented, for which there is no other word but his name.”
One of Robert Capa’s mantras for story telling was “if your photographs are not good enough, then you are not close enough.” That holds for both physical proximity and emotional proximity. Capa liked people, and let them know it by engaging with his subject and pouring his heart into his work. When people ask me about my photographic influences, Capa is at the top of the list.
As Sam Capa Zielenbach grows in future years, he will be able to learn how people experienced turbulent times in world history through the eyes and heart of his namesake.
There’s a very interesting piece in the New York Times today about whether the surge in Citizen Journalist has dulled the influence of photojournalism.
“…the surge in the number of photos and videos from nonprofessionals gives news outlets more eyes on news. Editors are busier than ever sorting through citizen offerings of earthquakes, tornadoes, riots and, of course, dogs dressed up for St. Patrick’s Day, and then confirming the veracity of those from politicized situations.
“In the diffuse media landscape it is much harder for any particular image, much less a piece of serious photojournalism, to command the consciousness of a nation or the world,” Mr. Young said.
But, he added, “the nonprofessional picture increasingly has the possibility of punching through to center stage.”
Read more here.