Robert Capa (born Endre Ernő Friedmann; October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) was a Hungarian-American war photographer and photojournalist as well as the companion and professional partner of photographer Gerda Taro. He is considered by some to be the greatest combat and adventure photographer in history.
Capa fled political repression in Hungary when he was a teenager, moving to Berlin, where he enrolled in college. He witnessed the rise of Hitler, which led him to move to Paris, where he met and began to work with Gerta Pohorylle. Together they worked under the alias Robert Capa and became photojournalists. Though she contributed to much of the early work, she quickly created her own alias ‘Gerda Taro’ and they began to publish their work separately. He subsequently covered five wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and the First Indochina War, with his photos published in major magazines and newspapers.
During his career he risked his life numerous times, most dramatically as the only civilian photographer landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He documented the course of World War II in London, North Africa, Italy, and the liberation of Paris. His friends and colleagues included Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John Steinbeck and director John Huston.
In 1947, for his work recording World War II in pictures, U.S. general Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Capa the Medal of Freedom. That same year, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris. The organization was the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers. Hungary has issued a stamp and a gold coin in his honor.
Capa was born Endre Ernő Friedmann to the Jewish family of Júlia (née Berkovits) and Dezső Friedmann in Budapest, Austria-Hungary on October 22, 1913. His mother, Julianna Henrietta Berkovits was a native of Nagykapos (now Veľké Kapušany, Slovakia) and Dezső Friedmann came from the Transylvanian village of Csucsa (now Ciucea, Romania). At the age of 18, he was accused of alleged communist sympathies and was forced to flee Hungary.
He moved to Berlin where he enrolled at Berlin University where he worked part-time as a darkroom assistant for income and then became a staff photographer for the German photographic agency, Dephot. It was during that period that the Nazi Party came into power, which made Capa, a Jew, decide to leave Germany and move to Paris.
He became professionally involved with Gerta Pohorylle, later known as Gerda Taro, a German-Jewish photographer who had moved to Paris for the same reasons he did. The two of them decided to work under the alias Capa at this time. The two of them later separated aliases and published their work independently. Capa and Taro developed a romantic relationship alongside their professional one. Capa proposed and Taro refused, but they continued their involvement. He also shared a darkroom with French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, with whom he would later co-found the Magnum Photos cooperative.
Capa’s first published photograph was of Leon Trotsky making a speech in Copenhagen on “The Meaning of the Russian Revolution” in 1932.
Capa was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Budapest, where his parents were tailors; Capa’s mother was a successful fashion shop owner, and his father was an employee of her shop. Capa had two brothers, a younger brother, Cornell Capa and an older brother, László Friedmann. Cornell moved to Paris in 1936 to join his older brother Capa, where he found an interest in photography instead of staying in the field of medicine. Not much is known of Capa’s older brother László, except that he married Angela Maria Friedmann-Csordas in 1933. He died a year later and was buried next to his father in the Kozma Utca Jewish Cemetery.
At the age of 18, Capa moved to Vienna, later relocated to Prague, and finally settled in Berlin: all cities that were centers of artistic and cultural ferment in this period. He started studies in journalism at the German Political College, but the Nazi Party instituted restrictions on Jews and banned them from colleges. Capa relocated to Paris, where he adopted the name ‘Robert Capa’ in 1934. At that time, he had already been a hobby-photographer.
In 1934 “André Friedman”, as he still called himself then, met Gerda Pohorylle, a German Jewish refugee. The couple lived in Paris where André taught Gerda photography. Together they created the name and image of “Robert Capa” as a famous American photographer, and at the beginning of the war both photographers published their work under the pseudonym of Robert Capa. Gerda took the name Gerda Taro and became successful in her own right. She travelled with Capa to Spain in 1936 intending to document the Spanish Civil War. In July 1937, Capa traveled briefly to Paris while Gerda remained in Madrid. She was killed near Brunete during a battle. Capa, who was reportedly engaged to her, was deeply shocked and never married.
In February 1943 Capa met Elaine Justin, then married to the actor John Justin. They fell in love and the relationship lasted until the end of the war. Capa spent most of his time in the frontline. Capa called the redheaded Elaine “Pinky,” and wrote about her in his war memoir, Slightly Out of Focus. In 1945, Elaine Justin broke up with Capa; she later married Chuck Romine.
Some months later Capa became the lover of the actress Ingrid Bergman, who was touring in Europe to entertain American soldiers. p. 176 In December 1945, Capa followed her to Hollywood. The relationship ended in the summer of 1946 when Capa traveled to Turkey.
- Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection, Magnum Photos
- Robert Capa, International Center of Photography
- The Falling Soldier, The Met Museum
- Robert Capa Photographs, Worcester Art Museum
- Robert Capa, The J. Paul Getty Museum
- Robert Capa, International Photography Hall of Fame