Fine Art Photography Series
Robert Capa

Biography of Hungarian War Photographer.

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Robert Capa (1913-54)


Robert Capa's War Photography
Other Famous Camera Artists

For a short explanation of how photographic technology evolved, please see the History of Photography (c.1800-1900). For details about the early pioneers, see 19th-Century Photographers.

For a brief explanation of technical
and historical terms, please see:
Art Photography Glossary.

Robert Capa's Photography

The finest wartime photojournalist and one of the greatest photographers of the mid-20th century, Robert Capa achieved international fame at the age of 23, for his (now controversial) Spanish Civil War photograph entitled Death of a Loyalist Militiaman (1936, International Center of Photography, New York). Later, with his familiar Rollieflex camera, he parachuted into Sicily with American paratroopers, was in Normandy on D-Day - where he shot his iconic photo American Soldiers Landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day, Normandy (1944, silver print, ICP, New York) - and later photographed the liberation of Paris as well as the surrender of Berlin. In 1947, together with David Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert, he co-founded Magnum Photos - the first cooperative agency for international freelance photographers. In 1948, he reported the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and finally the war in Indo-China, where he was killed by a mine. He remains the most famous war reporter in the world, possessed of that unique ability to produce documentary photography that captures the horror and tragedy of war in a specific moment. He remains one of the great modern artists and a master of photojournalism. Other leading 20th century practitioners of documentary photography during times of conflict include: Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003), Larry Burrows (1926-71), Don McCullin (b.1935), James Nachtwey (b.1948) and Steve McCurry (b.1950).

Note: Other Hungarian photographic artists active during the interwar years include: Andre Kertesz (1894-1985), Brassai (1899-1984), and the hugely inventive Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946).


Born Endre Friedmann to Jewish parents Dezso and Julia Friedmann. 1923-1931, secondary school in Budapest. Friendship with the young Eva Besnyo. Meets the left-wing intellectual Lajos Kassak. Subsequently decides to become journalist. 1931, at the age of 18, leaves Hungary and moves to Berlin. Studies at the liberal Deutsche Hochschule fur Politik (German Academy for Politics). Contact with Gyorgy Kepes. From him, acquires his first (second-hand) camera.

1932-1933, lab technician at the Dephot agency. End of 1932, candid photos of exiled Bolshevik Leon Trotsky agitating (in Copenhagen) taken with his Leica becomes the subject of his first major publication (in Weltspiegel). 1933, moves to Paris via Vienna. Meets Sigmund Freund, Hans Namuth (1915-90), David Szymin (David Seymour) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). 1934, meets Gerda Pohorylle, a German Jewish refugee, in Paris. He teaches her photography. While she takes the name Gerda Taro, he eventually adopts the name "Robert Capa".

Works for Alliance photo. Publishes under the name "Andre Friedman", and "Capa". From 1936, reports on the Spanish Civil War for VU and Regards. On 23 September 1936 his best-known photo: Death of a Loyalist Soldier. 1937, Gerda Taro is killed during fighting in Spain. Capa, reportedly engaged to her, is profoundly shocked and never marries. (See also the work of Capa's older contemporary Dorothea Lange: 1895-1965.) 1938, he travels to Hankow, now Wuhan, in China to photograph local resistance to the Japanese invasion. 1939, moves to the USA. Works for Collier's Weekly and Life. At first focuses on American themes. Later produces acclaimed photojournalism from war zones in Europe (including D-Day 1944). End of 1944, becomes Paris correspondent for Life.

1947 becomes founding member of Magnum. Publishes his photobook Slightly Out of Focus (1947, Henry Holt & Co, New York). In the same year, with John Steinbeck in the Soviet Union (A Russian Journal), where he takes photos in Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi, and Stalingrad. 1948, first trip to Israel. 1951, becomes President of Magnum. 1954, (replacing the Life photographer Howard Sochurek) goes to Vietnam. There killed by a landmine. End of 2007, spectacular rediscovery of a case with around 3,500 negatives (photos by C. Taro and David Szymin) from the Spanish Civil War period. Today in the International Center of Photography, New York, a museum founded by Capa's younger brother Cornell.

For a brief discussion of the aesthetics and evolution of lens-based art, see: Is Photography Art?

Selected Exhibitions

Unless stated all shows are solo events.

1955 New York (The Family of Man) group show
1956 Cologne (photokina - 1963, 1980) group show
1960 Washington DC (Smithsonian American Art Museum - 1964)
1986 Paris (Centre national de la photographie)
1995 Berlin (Deutsches Historisches Museum) group show
1997 Bonn (Rheinisches Landesmuseum) group show
2001 Lausanne (Musee de l'Elysee)
2007 New York (International Center of Photography)
2008 Vienna (WestLicht) group show

Photographs by Robert Capa are regularly exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.



Profiles of Other Famous Camera Artists

In addition to the photographers mentioned above, here is a short list of the best known camera artists of the 20th century.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927) Famous for Paris street scenes
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) Photo-Secession founder
Edward Steichen (1879-1973) Famous pictorialist and fashion photographer
Edward Weston (1886-1958) Still life photographs, pictorialism
Paul Strand (1890-1976) Exponent of straight photography
Ansel Adams (1902-84) Wilderness landscapes
Walker Evans (1903-75) Documentary pictures
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Fashion, ethnographical images
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion photography
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) Figurative images and still lifes

• For more about war photography, see: Homepage.
• For other forms of camera art, see: Animation and Video Art.

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