A war photographer’s most fervent wish is for unemployment.
– Robert Capa
Capa’s career as a war photojournalist saw him witness five separate wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. In these conflicts, Capa captured an astonishing range of experiences, from both fear-sicken images from the frontline at the battle of Normandy to the celebrations of the Liberation of Paris, and from the effects of war on civilians to soldiers who are left dead in the wake of destruction. Affected by the monstrosities that he witnessed first-hand, Capa is reported to have said he would stop reporting on war and that he never believed in another conflict after the Second World War. However, he continued to report on conflicts until, sadly, he was killed in 1954 in Vietnam, stepping on a landmine during his reportage of the First Indochina War. However, the timeless reverberations his photography has created made him ‘the greatest war photographer in the world’.
Born in Hungary in October 1913, Capa moved to Berling when he was a teenager, fleeing from the political repression in his country. He witnessed the rise of Hitler, which led him to move to Paris, where he met and began to work with Gerta Pohorylle. Together they worked under the alias Robert Capa and became photojournalists. Though she contributed to much of the early work, she quickly created her own alias ‘Gerda Taro’ and they began to publish their work separately. He subsequently covered five wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and the First Indochina War, with his photos published in major magazines and newspapers. During his career, he risked his life numerous times, most dramatically as the only civilian photographer landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He documented the course of World War II in London, North Africa, Italy, and the liberation of Paris. His friends and colleagues included Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John Steinbeck, and director John Huston.
In 1947, for his work recording, World War II in pictures, U.S. general Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Capa the Medal of Freedom. That same year, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris. The organization was the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers. Hungary has issued a stamp and a gold coin in his honor.
While Capa is best known for his war photographs, his portrait of Picasso with his son Claude is an important example of the artist’s lighter and rather truer side. Capa had a lively social life, surrounding himself with a circle of talented and famous friends, including Picasso. He spent several days photographing the Picasso, his young wife Gilot and their one-year-old son Claude in August 1948, while on assignment in the south of France for the British magazine Illustrated.