Robert Capa: Exposed in Color

robert capa

The International Center of Photography presents Capa in Color through May 4, 2014. Praised as a black and white photographer, the exhibition is the first to expose the scope of Robert Capa’s color photographs with a number of images never seen before in any form. It showcases more than 100 color images including postwar Paris, café scenes and fashion models to name a few.

Robert Capa’s life as a combat photographer and photojournalist began in 1933 Paris. The photographer, then known as Endre Friedmann was born in Budapest. At 18, he left Hungry for Berlin where he found work as a photographer. In 1933, he moved to France, concerned about the rise in Nazism.

There, he met Polish photographer, Gerda Taro (Pohorylle), the first female photojournalist to report on the front lines. Together, the two came up with the persona of American photographer, “Robert Capa,” and began to sell Friedmann’s work under that namesake.  In 1932, he published The Meaning of the Russian Revolution, a photograph of Leon Trotsky in Copenhagen. The newly named Capa traveled to Madrid where he covered the Spanish Civil war from 1935 to 1939.

During Capa’s era, black and white photography was standard for war photography and art. Color, on the other hand, was considered for amateurs, leisure, commerce, and magazines that featured women.

Robert Capa is most renowned for his black and white photographs of war such as the 1936 Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano (Falling Soldier) from the Spanish Civil War. Known for being entrenched in a war zone, he once said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Although, he began working with color in 1938, he only began shooting habitually in color in 1941 until his death in 1954. When Capa began using color for his postwar stories, the images were noticeably different from the war reportage that had dominated his early career.

His first experiment with color was in China while covering the Sino-Japanese War. At that time, color was discredited for photojournalists because it lacked the stark reporting style that was attained with black and white. It was also problematic because color Kodachrome film took two weeks to print, making it impossible for the urgency of headline news. He did experiment with color again, in 1941, when on assignment for the Saturday Evening Post, and two years later for Collier magazine. Capa went on to work for Life magazine.

On June 6, 1944, the photographer swam ashore with the “second assault wave” onto Omaha Beach. Instead of weapons, Robert Capa was exposed, only armed with two cameras and rolls of film. Within two hours, he had taken 106 pictures of the invasion. Unfortunately, a Life magazine staff member ruined the films, and only 11 frames were recovered. Life magazine went on to publish ten of the images, D-day Landings Omaha Beach in their June 19, 1944 issue.

His technical ability together with his understanding of human emotion from his prewar black and white images empowered him to interchange easily between the two films.

robert capa

Capa was impressed with color photographs. He felt it greatly enhanced his images so he was aggressive about pitching color stories. He grew more reliant on the medium after the war, when he transitioned to Eckachrome film.

He turned his focus to travel, and in 1948, captured a portrait of Picasso and his son, Claude in France, and took scenes on the beaches Biarritz in 1951. He focused on Parisian life and cosmopolitan women, cafes and promenades.

His travel and lifestyle photographs were taken with the same keenness as his war images, but with a newfound lightheartedness. They provided readers with a glimpse into more opulent lifestyles.  He covered the fashionable ski resorts in the Alps, and French resorts. An example is his 1951 photographs of French actress-model, Capucine in Rome. He also photographed film legends such as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Robert Capa is renowned for redefining wartime journalism straight from the trenches. The ICP exhibition, Capa in Color exposes how the photographer began to view his work in color, and in what manner he  tailored it to a new postwar audience and  perspective.

By: Dawn Levesque


International Center of Photography

New York Magazine

Paris Photo

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