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This Is War! Robert Capa at Work Opens at Barbican Art Gallery, London

LONDON.- Robert Capa (1913 -1954) is one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. A pioneer of photojournalism, Capa captured war as it unfolded on the front line and his images have now come to define key moments in history. Working with the Leica, a super light-weight camera invented by a mountaineer, Capa got closer to the heat of the battle than any previous photographer, redefining how war was pictured. Capa famously declared “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. His striking images of the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese conflict, and World War II all appeared in the pages of the leading picture magazines of the day. This was the context in which he honed his skills as a master of the cinematic photo narrative.

Bringing together rarely seen photographs, vintage prints, contact sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters, and original magazine layouts This Is War! Robert Capa at Work – the title taken from the headline of a 1938 Picture Post story – looks closely at Capa’s working process and the construction of six of his key photo stories from the 1930s and 1940s.

The exhibition includes an examination of 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 (1936). Capturing a soldier who has just been shot and falling to his death, this extraordinary picture was an immediate sensation when first published at the time. Becoming one of the defining images of the Spanish Civil War, it was also became one of the most controversial. Is it indeed a soldier at his death? Was it staged? This exhibition shows for the first time all the known images taken by Capa on that day and provides new details to help understand the events that resulted in the creation of this iconic photograph.

The exhibition also unites the 10 existing images of Capa’s legendary shots of the Omaha beach landing in Normandy, France on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Although many of the original negatives were destroyed in a darkroom accident, the surviving images have become synonymous with the Allied victory in World War II. The slightly out of focus action photographs which show American GIs going ashore were also the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama, Saving Private Ryan (1998). These images will be displayed in the exhibition in the original sequence in which they were shot. Capa’s experiences photographing the horror of World War II led him, along with three other leading photographers of the day, to found the photographic agency Magnum in 1947, which enabled Capa to continue to push the boundaries of photojournalism.

This Is War! Robert Capa at Work will also be the first ever opportunity for the public to view a few selected works from the recently discovered ‘Mexican suitcase’, a valise missing for 70 years containing thousands of Capa’s negatives from the Spanish Civil War and hailed in the press as the ‘holy grail of photography’.

The photographic series on display will be The Falling Soldier, 1936, The Battle of Rio Segre, 1938,and Refugees from Barcelona, 1939, which 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.

This Is War! Robert Capa at Work is one of three interrelated exhibitions on the subject of war and photography. Seven years after the West’s ‘War on Terror’ began in Afghanistan, Barbican Art Gallery reflects on conflict and its representation, with exhibitions of Capa, a retrospective of photojournalist Gerda Taro and On the Subject of War which presents four contemporary artistic responses to current events in Iraq and Afghanistan by Paul Chan, Omer Fast, Geert van Kesteren and An-My Lê.

Born André Friedmann in Budapest in 1913, he was exiled from Hungary at the age of seventeen as a result of his protests against the repressiveness and anti-Semitism of the government. Moving to Berlin to study journalism he ended up working as an assistant in the darkroom of outstanding photojournalistic agency ‘Dephot’, where his first assignment was to photograph the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Early in 1933 Hitler’s rise to power forced the young photographer to flee to Paris, where he covered the tumultuous politics of the anti-fascist coalition of liberals, socialists, and Communists known as the Popular Front. In 1936 Robert Capa went to cover the Spanish Civil War. Subsequently he went on to photograph Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion (1938); Italy, England, France and Germany during World War II (1941-45); the Israeli War for Independence (1948); and the French Indochina War (1954). While photographing French maneuvers in the Red River delta, Capa stepped on an anti-personnel mine and was killed on May 25, 1954.

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