Archive for November, 2005

CAPA

10 November 2005

I have had a darkroom all my adult life; photography has always been so important to me — and to my wife (she takes fantastic pictures, much better that mine).

Naturally we have lots of coffee table photography books, and every-so-often they are consulted to remind us what we should be striving for.  Some photographers have taken pictures that have been so inspirational to me in so many ways, but I ought to add here that which is all too often omitted — that some pictures become friends, they live beyond the intention, the moment, or the context of the artist’s life.

  • The first picture that I can recall affecting me that way is by a chap known professionally as Robert Capa. It is probably one of the best known photographs ever taken.

Capa was in Cerro Muriano on the Cordoba Front during the Spanish Civil War.  It was taken on 1936-09-05, and is called known as The Loyalist Militia Man at The Moment of Death. The Militia man has been identified as Federico Borrell García, from Alicante.

[Picture called It’s an amazing picture.  It initially haunted and troubled me, and I hated it.

Then I found out that some people think that it is a fake. Oddly enough, that made me feel a whole lot better about the picture; it has become symbolic now, for me.  It is so familiar now.  It describes perfectly  for me the insanity of war, that a son/ dad/ brother/ friend can take a living step and be dead before completing the action — dead while actually moving.  Dead in a moment.

Yet the man is the only thing in the frame, the brilliant white shirt against the sky, the shadow adding so much, the lack of cover — nowhere to hide.  The lack of armour, of uniform, or support — this is a bloke with a gun, not a trained killing professional. This is an (ironically named) civil war. He’s a civilian really.  It’s obviously sunny, but thank goodness it’s a monochrome picture; colour would not work.

I am not sure it matters if this is the moment of  Federico’s death; the image speaks for itself, and does it’s job without the need for explanation or background information — it is powerful to me without being gruesome or gory (there are plenty of them available I’m afraid).  This goes beyond photo-journalism and becomes “art”.

[Picture of D-Day Landings by Capa]Personally I do think now that it is genuine — not a staged scene. Capa was perfectly capable of getting that close  to the action — look at his D-Day landing pictures for proof of that. He was known as a war photographer — in fact he was blown up as a result of stepping on a landmine in Indochina (Vietnam) in May 1954.  He died holding his camera in a war zone.  Earlier he lost the love of his life, war photographer Gerda Taro — she was killed in the Spanish Civil War.

But it was not all war and scary stuff; Capa was a colourful chap — as a Jewish Hungarian refugee, Endre Ernő Friedmann picked “Robert Capa” as his professional name because “Capa” means “shark” in Hungarian, and “Robert Capa” sounded American. He founded the famous agency, Magnum Photos in 1947 with Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert, David Seymour, and George Rodger.  He also dated the movie star, Ingrid Bergman and lived in Hollywood with her until 1947.  Their pal, the famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock based his movie, Rear Window, on their turbulent love affair!

I have to say here that I am not a war person, I certainly do not search for those types of pictures or anything like that.  Having said that, I do admire Capa and the work of the Magnum guys immensely — it’s just that I prefer those picture that offer something, you know, different, something extra. To explain this a bit better, look at the following picture:

[Picture of killer pilot by Capa]It’s not the fact that it’s a war picture, what I like about this is the expression on the pilot’s face — along with the tally, the suggestion of cockpit, and the angle of the composition.  It shows that Capa was a great photographer, technically, instinctively, and compositionally — what a good eye and idea, and that’s what it’s all about.

Powerful and memorable objects in their own right — that’s inspirational and aspirational!

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