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Robert Capa Exhibition at Círculo de Bellas Artes Focuses on Famous Photograph
A woman stands in front of an image by US-Hungarian photographer Robert Capa (1913-1954) on display in a double exhibition, entitled Gerda Taro / This Is War! Robert Capa At Work, at the Circulo de Bellas Artes center in Madrid. The exhibition, running through 05 September, features over 250 images by both photographers. EPA/MONDELO.

MADRID.- Robert Capa is, without a doubt, one of the leading photographers of the twentieth century. His most striking images—of the Spanish Civil War, of the Sino-Japanese conflict, of World War II—all appeared in the pages of the leading picture magazines of the day. This was the context in which Capa worked and was known, and where he honed his skills as a master of the cinematic photo narrative. This Is War! Robert Capa at Work is a groundbreaking exhibition that reexamines Capa’s innovations as a photojournalist in the 1930s and 1940s. The title of the exhibition is drawn from the headline of a December 3, 1938 Picture Post story including Capa’s images from the Battle of Rio Segre. Never-before-seen photographs and newly discovered documents will illuminate six of Capa’s most important war stories. This Is War! Robert Capa at Work organized by the International Center of Photography (ICP) is on view at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

“At a moment of conflict across the globe, and a decidedly new era in the making and distribution of war images through digital technology, it seems timely to examine the legacy of the photographer who defined the possibility of the medium with his Leica,” said Willis E. Hartshorn, ICP Ehrenkranz Director. “Robert Capa’s best work continues to serve as a benchmark for photojournalists today, and provides the world with some of the most indelible images of the twentieth century’s key conflicts.”

On September 5, 1936, just a month into the Republican struggle against General Franco’s fascist army, the twenty-two-year-old Capa made the most famous image of the Spanish Civil War, Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, Cerro Muriano (Cordoba front), now generally known as The Falling Soldier. This extraordinary picture, first published in Vu, at once became a sensation and was widely published at the time. It subsequently grew in stature to become the ultimate symbol of the Spanish Loyalist fight. However, this iconic image has been the center of much controversy over the context in which it was made. Is it indeed a soldier at his death? Was it staged? This exhibition will show for the first time all the known images taken by Capa on that day and provide new details to help understand the events that resulted in the creation of this iconic photograph.

In 1938, following the tragic death of his photographic partner, Gerda Taro, Capa traveled to China to document that country’s war with Japan, which was widely perceived as the eastern front of the international antifascist struggle. He entered the country as film assistant to documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens, who eventually made The 400 Million. Based in Hankou, Capa, as part of the film crew, was under tight censorship and could not travel and photograph freely as he had done in Spain. Nevertheless, Capa managed to make dynamic images of the Chinese army and non-combatants, published in LIFE and Regards, covering the battle of Tai’erzhuang and the air raids on Hankou and including intimate portraits of generals Chiang and Chou En-Lai.

Capa returned to Spain in late 1938 and followed the Republican soldiers as they battled against the encroaching Francoist forces who were attempting to cross the Segre River. The images from the battle on November 7, 1938 represent the drama and emotion of Capa’s best war reportage and were published in an unprecedented number of page spreads in Regards, Match, Picture Post, and LIFE. Capa’s original captions and corresponding vintage prints allow us to trace the battle movements. Unfortunately, the triumph of the day did not change the course of Republican defeat, and in January 1939 Capa photographed the Spanish refugees, fleeing Franco’s advancement, on the road from Tarragona to Barcelona and eventually across the French border.

Capa’s photographs of the Omaha beach landing in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, have almost become synonymous with the Allied victory in World War II. The legend of his slightly out of focus images of American GIs going ashore increased greatly after it became known that many of his negatives were destroyed in a darkroom accident. The ICP presentation will unite the ten existing images of the beach landing in the original sequence in which they were shot. Many of these prints are the ones made in the LIFE darkroom for publication. Also included are never-before-published censor prints of the American troops preparing for the invasion in England and crossing the English Channel. Personal letters that Capa wrote and received following the dramatic coverage will complement the photographs.

Capa claimed that he photographed the last man shot in World War II in Leipzig, Germany in April 1945—a young American soldier killed by the bullet of a German sniper. This famous image published in LIFE is a fitting reflection back to The Falling Soldier picture. In both, Capa’s proximity to war and death unfolds in front of the camera. The exhibition will include Capa’s continued coverage in Leipzig of the American soldiers in their pursuit of the remaining German troops in the barren city. These original prints did not pass the censor’s office at the time because of the violence that was depicted.

Many of Robert Capa’s most famous photographs have come to define important historical moments—The Falling Soldier of the Spanish Civil War, the American troops landing on D-Day, the last man shot in World War II. But it is important to remember that it was their broad circulation in international picture magazines that first made them iconic. Many of the most visually sophisticated and politically engaged European and American magazines of the mid-century published Capa’s photographs of war, including the French Vu, Regards, and Match, England’s Picture Post and, of course, LIFE. Through vintage prints, contact sheets, caption sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters and original magazine layouts, the exhibition looks closely at Capa’s working process and the construction of six of his key photo stories. The Falling Soldier, 1936; The Battle of Rio Segre, 1938; and Refugees from Barcelona, 1939, trace his coverage of the Spanish Civil War. China, 1938, documents his six-month stay during the Sino-Japanese War. D-Day, 1944, and the Liberation of Leipzig, 1945, present his photographs of World War II.

Also on view is an exhibition of photographs by Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist who spent her brief but dramatic career photographing on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. The exhibition, Gerda Taro, includes photographs drawn from ICP’s collection, as well as examples of the many European and American magazines and books that reproduced Taro’s dynamic and impassioned war coverage.

Taro’s photographs of the war are a striking but little-known record of an important moment in the history of war photography. They are also evidence of the changing possibilities for women in Europe in the 1930s, through Taro’s personal narrative as well as her photographs of female militia members in Barcelona and Valencia. Taro was the first woman known to have photographed in the heat of battle, and the first to die in action. Though Taro’s promising career was cut short, she produced a body of work that is notable for its animation, commitment, and formal experimentation. The exhibition is drawn from ICP’s extensive Taro archive, which includes approximately 200 vintage prints, original negatives, publications, and ephemera.

Gerda Taro was born Gerda Pohorylle, daughter of a liberal Polish Jewish family in Stuttgart, Germany. The family moved to Leipzig when Gerda was nineteen, where the growing strength of the National Socialists and a new circle of friends drew her into involvement in local leftist organizations. In 1933, she was arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest campaign. Eventually realizing that it was too dangerous for her to remain in Germany, she left for Paris.

After a year in Paris spent struggling for work, Gerda met Hungarian photographer André Friedmann, who would later change his name to Robert Capa. A romance developed between Gerda and André, and Gerda increasingly managed the business side of André’s work, while beginning to experiment with taking her own photographs. She started working at the Alliance Photo agency, providing her with an invaluable lens into the machinery of photojournalism. In February of 1936, she obtained her first press card. Gerda and André, frustrated with their lack of success selling his stories, constructed a fictional American photographer named Robert Capa, under whose identity they might fare better than as one of many Eastern European Jewish émigrés in Paris. Gerda, in turn, changed her last name to Taro, taken from the Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. Both names had Hollywood resonances, too; Capa’s echoing the American filmmaker Frank Capra, and Gerda Taro’s recalling Greta Garbo.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out on July 17, 1936, Taro and Capa immediately arranged to go to Barcelona. The opportunity to photograph active combat, combined with participating in a leftist cause for which emigrés Taro and Capa were deeply sympathetic, was an incomparable opportunity for the pair. They photographed side-by-side, often recording the same scenes. Their pictures from this period are easily distinguishable because they used cameras that produced negatives with different proportions; Taro the square-format Rollei, and Capa the rectangular Leica. In addition, Taro’s work reveals her interest in experimenting with the dynamic camera angles of New Vision photography. After photographing in Barcelona, they headed west and then south to Córdoba, where Capa photographed his famous “Falling Soldier,” a loyalist militiaman falling back on a hillside, a moment after he has been fatally shot.

From the outset, the photographic team of Taro and Capa published in magazines with established reputations like Vu in France or the Züricher Illustrierte in Switzerland. Though the work was initially credited “Robert Capa,” it was a collective project to which they both contributed. Contact print notebooks from this period—which will be included in the exhibition—make this collaboration clear: Taro and Capa’s photographs are unattributed and interspersed, with stories comprised of photographs by both authors.

Taro and Capa returned to Paris for the fall and early winter, and made a second trip to Spain in February of 1937. Photographs from this second trip are more difficult to distinguish, since both Taro and Capa were working in the same rectangular 35mm format. Too, they began to publish their photographs “Capa & Taro,” as in a spread in the French weekly Regards on fighting in Madrid. Capa remained in Spain only briefly, returning to Paris at the end of the month, while Taro stayed on. It appears that their romance had cooled by this point, and Taro was distinguishing herself with a successful independent career in the French leftist press. Beginning in March of 1937, the byline of her photographs in Regards and the left-wing French Popular Front newspaper Ce Soir reads “Photo Taro.” Some of Taro’s most arresting photographs were taken in the spring of 1937, in a hospital and morgue following the bombing of Valencia. Taro seems to have predated Capa’s famous assertion that “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” with her unflinching images of the civilian casualties of the war.

In July, Taro covered the Second International Writers’ Congress on the Defense of Culture at Madrid and then went to Brunete, outside of the capital, to cover fighting for Ce Soir. For two weeks, Taro photographed the battle for the city, and her images were widely reproduced, in part because they demonstrated that the Loyalists were holding the Brunete, despite insurgent claims to the contrary. On July 25, as the Loyalist position faltered, Taro found herself in the midst of a hasty retreat. She jumped on the running-board of a car transporting casualties. A tank sideswiped the car, knocking Taro to the ground. She died the next day. Her body was returned to Paris, where Taro was proclaimed an anti-fascist martyr. Her funeral, which was attended by tens of thousands, took place on what would have been her twenty-seventh birthday.

“The work of Gerda Taro is not only remarkable within the larger oeuvre of war photography for the period, but also because it exemplifies the changing roles of women at that time,” said Willis E. Hartshorn, ICP Ehrenkranz Director. “Her work holds a significant place within the ICP Collection, and we are pleased to be able to present it in the context of such a major exhibition.”

Madrid | Círculo de Bellas Artes | International Center of Photography | Robert Capa |

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