RobertCapa is re­garded as an iconic war pho­tog­ra­pher. His part­ner, Ger­daTaro, is now winning sim­i­lar ac­claim

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment - BY ME­LANIE ABRAMS

THE MO­MENT Hun­gar­ian pho­tog­ra­pher An­dré Friedmann and his Ger­man girl­friend Gerta Po­ho­rylle de­cided to change their names was a hugely sig­nif­i­cant one in the his­tory of photography. Friedmann was looking for a name that would make it eas­ier to present him­self as a French pho­tog­ra­pher to Amer­i­can mag­a­zine and news­pa­per ed­i­tors, and as an Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher to French ed­i­tors, and which would mark him out from the other Jewish émi­grés who had grav­i­tated to Paris dur­ing the 1930s. So he bor­rowed from Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Robert Tay­lor and di­rec­tor Frank Capra, and be­came Robert Capa.

The ploy helped — Capa went on to be de­scribed as “the great­est war pho­tog­ra­pher in the world” by the UK’s Pic­ture Post mag­a­zine. He took some of the most iconic war im­ages of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Death of a Loy­al­ist Mili­tia­man, in which he cap­tured a Span­ish sol­dier fall­ing back­wards at the very mo­ment a bul­let hits him in the chest.

Po­ho­rylle mean­while based her new name on the screen god­dess Greta Garbo, be­com­ing Gerda Taro. In her case, though, en­dur­ing fame as a pho­tog­ra­pher failed to fol­low. She be­came known for her ro­mance with Capa, al­though many be­lieve her own im­ages stand com­par­i­son with her part­ner’s. She or­gan­ised Capa’s ca­reer as a pho­tog­ra­pher and he taught her how to use a cam­era. To­gether they pho­tographed the un­fold­ing events of the Span­ish Civil War in 1936, but she has re­ceived lit­tle of the ac­claim ac­corded to Capa.

As Cyn­thia Young, cu­ra­tor of the Capa archive at the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre of Photography in New York, ex­plains: “Many of Taro’s prints were cred­ited to Capa or they were jointly cred­ited. Fur­ther­more pho­to­graphs of the Span­ish Civil War were not re­pub­lished af­ter­wards, and by then Capa’s name was bet­ter known than Taro’s.”

This is now set to change, with a dis­play of Taro’s newly dis­cov­ered work at the Bar­bican in Lon­don, along­side a sep­a­rate ex­hi­bi­tion of Capa’s work that looks at six of his iconic photo sto­ries, in­clud­ing the Span­ish Civil War and the D-Day land­ings.

It is claimed that Taro was the first woman to pho­to­graph at the front­line and the first pho­tog­ra­pher to die in action, aged 27, dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War, in 1937.

Jil­lian Edel­stein, a lead­ing pho­to­jour­nal­ist who has cov­ered South Africa, Kosovo and other con­flict zones, is an­gry that she is so lit­tle known. “She was phe­nom­e­nally out of her time for women and women pho­to­jour­nal­ists — and there are still very few women war pho­tog­ra­phers. Her pho­to­graphs are ground­break­ing for the time be­cause she is there on the front­line,” she says. Many ar­gue that Capa’s and Taro’s Jewish up­bring­ing, and par­tic­u­larly their ex­pe­ri­ences as refugees from the Nazis, had an im­por­tant in­flu­ence on their out­look and work. Taro and Capa both left the na­tive coun­tries for Paris in 1933, and Capa fled again to Amer­ica in 1939.

Natan Dvir, an Is­raeli pho­to­jour­nal­ist, be­lieves that Capa was al­ways very con­nected to his Jewish roots. “In the late 1940s he de­cided to go to Is­rael. His Jewish back­ground al­lowed him to gain ac­cess and made him more sen­si­tive to the var­i­ous lo­cal peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, Capa made the first great im­ages of the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity in Is­rael,” he says.

Colin Ja­cob­son, se­nior lec­turer in pho­to­jour­nal­ism at Uni­ver­sity of West­min­ster and for­mer pic­ture ed­i­tor of the In­de­pen­dent Mag­a­zine, agrees. “Capa’s Jewish back­ground made him into a hu­man­ist, con­cerned about so­cial is­sues such as the Repub­li­can side of the Span­ish Civil War and what was go­ing on in the world.”

This con­cern for hu­man­ity de­fined Capa’s and Taro’s work and re-shaped the im­ages of war that re­main fa­mil­iar to­day. Young ex­plains: “They pho­tographed the peo­ple who were af­fected by war, the com­mu­ni­ties and towns that were de­stroyed and the refugees who were forced to move. It was a new an­gle of war photography and played into their pro­found un­der­stand­ing of what peo­ple were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.”

Their im­ages con­front the bru­tal hu­man cost of war, from Taro’s bomb-dam­aged vic­tims stretched out in a morgue to Capa’s Amer­i­can sol­dier killed by a Ger­man sniper, ly­ing in a pool of his own blood, in Leipzig in 1945. But it is the in­ti­macy of th­ese im­ages that make them so com­pelling, and as Edel­stein points out: “There is a beauty in th­ese tragic and tough sit­u­a­tions which is un­set­tling.”

The cou­ple still ex­ert an in­flu­ence over to­day’s war pho­tog­ra­phers. “Their work sets a prece­dent and peo­ple who go out to cover wars to­day look for sim­i­lar things,” says Edel­stein.

As an ex­am­ple, Capa and Taro had an early un­der­stand­ing of get­ting close to the sub­ject. As Capa claimed: “If your pho­tos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

This is a les­son that has cer­tainly been taken to heart by Ju­dah Pas­sow, an award-winning pho­to­jour­nal­ist who has cov­ered the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict ex­ten­sively. He says: “Capa’s mantra still stands. To­day the only way we pho­tog­ra­phers get pic­tures that re­ally move peo­ple is by get­ting close to the peo­ple who are shap­ing the con­flict — whether it is the com­bat­ants or the peo­ple work­ing in the po­lit­i­cal back­ground or the peo­ple caught in the mid­dle. We want to pur­sue and ex­pose the ob­jec­tive truth in cov­er­ing a con­flict. So we have to get as close as we pos­si­bly can.” Pho­to­graphs by Gerda Taro and Robert Capa are dis­played at Bar­bican Art Gallery, Lon­don EC2, un­til Jan­uary 25 2009. In­for­ma­tion at­

Gerda Taro’s im­ages from the Span­ish Civil War, such as her pho­tos of a child mem­ber of the FAI anti-fas­cist group ( above) and a sol­dier dy­ing on a stretcher, stand com­par­i­son with the work of her part­ner and much more fa­mous war pho­tog­ra­pher, Robert Capa

Taro ( left) with part­ner Robert Capa, and ( Capa’s best­known photo


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