80 years of war photography with Robert Capa and Gerda Taro | Arts | DW | 02.09.2016
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80 years of war photography with Robert Capa and Gerda Taro

Robert Capa and Gerda Taro are considered to be the founders of modern war photography. In September 1936, Capa took one of the most famous wartime Pictures in history: "Falling soldier."

Gerda Taro was born in Germany, Robert Capa in Hungary. They met in exile in Paris in 1934 and became lovers. They were both young Jews fleeing the Nazis in their home countries.

Capa taught Taro photography and she took over the marketing of their photos. She was the one who came up with the idea of changing their names, from Gerta Pohorylle to Gerda Taro and André Friedmann to Robert Capa.

First the Spanish Civil War, then D-Day

In the summer of 1936, Capa and Taro went to Spain to cover the Civil War, which started on July 7, 1936 and ended on April 1, 1939. They took light cameras with them and accompanied Republican troops at the front.

Their unprecedented risk-taking laid the foundation for war photography as we now know it.

During World War II, Robert Capa pursued this approach and - having become a US citizen - he photographed the Allies' invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He later followed US paratroopers parachuting into Germany.

Capa famously said, "If your pictures are not good enough, you're not close enough."

As the war photographer of the 20th century, he later founded the renowned photo agency Magnum, together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour ("Chim") and George Rodger.

'The Falling Soldier' and doubts about authenticity

In Spain, Capa and Taro took a clear stand against General Franco and in favor of the Republican troops with their photos.

"The Falling Soldier," one of Capa's photos from that period, remains one of the most famous images in the history of photography.

It remains unclear what happened that day at the beginning of September 1936 on the Cordoba front. Years after Capa's death, a debate was launched as to whether the scene was actually staged.

The author Amanda Vaill dug into the couple's story during the Spanish Civil War, researching for her novel "Hotel Florida." She writes that Capa and Taro simulated attacks and fight scenes with a militia group to photograph them.

According to Vaill, as the soldiers acted for the benefit of the camera, a real bullet - fired perhaps by a fascist sniper or by one of the Guardia Civil rebels active in those hills - hit one of the men's hearts. Capa, she said, captured that moment, which became known as his photo "The Falling Soldier."

Found after decades: The Mexican suitcase

Thousands of negatives taken by Taro, Capa and Chim during the Spanish Civil War were believed to be lost since 1939 until they were found in 2007 in what became known as the Mexican suitcase. The negative of the falling soldier wasn't among them.

Taro, born on August 1, 1910, was not only the first female war photographer, she also was the first to die while reporting. On July 25, 1937, she was severely injured during the retreat of the Republican army and died the next day - aged 26.

As World War II overshadowed the Spanish Civil War in media history, she was widely forgotten. The significance of her work with Capa was revived in 1994, through a biography on Gerda Taro written by Irme Schaber.

Capa, born on October 1913, also died on the field, stepping on a landmine while reporting on the First Indochina War on May 24, 1954. He is said to have firmly held onto his camera as it happened.

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