Canadian Geographic Photo Club - Robert Capa

Robert Capa


If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough, declared Robert Capa, one of the first, and arguably best, modern war and conflict photographers.

During a career that spanned the first half of the 20th Century, Capa covered nearly every major conflict, beginning in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War. He went on to photograph the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War Two, the Arab Israel War and the First Indo China War. Through these campaigns he emerged with a style that would reshape the course of photojournalism.

Capa first grabbed the attention of the world press and public with a deeply disturbing image. Rendered in simple black and white, it shows a Spanish Loyalist the moment he is struck by a bullet his head recoiled, arms outstretched and rifle slipping from his hands. While the photo's veracity has been called into question, the truth remains that this striking image cemented Capa as a rising force in photography.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Capa fled to the United States, but returned to Europe to document the course of the war and the effect it had on the continent. His photos from this period portray the violence and human toll of this massive conflict.

Putting into practicing his demand for photographers to get closer to the action, on June 6, 1944, Capa joined U.S. forces at Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. Over the course of the five to six hour invasion, he waded ashore among a hail of bullets and took 106 frames (four rolls of film) under some of the most stressful and challenging conditions using two simple Contax II cameras.

Ten of these D-Day images were printed in Life Magazine on June 19, 1944, and came to define the public's vision of the invasion.

While covering the First Indo China War in 1954, Capa died with his camera in hand after stepping on a landmine while moving ahead of a column of soldiers to see a different angle, to get "the shot," as he liked to say.

Capa's work came from the trenches, from the perspective of those who were fighting and his up-close and personal style is present in the work of the best conflict photographers of our time, including Tyler Hicks, Christopher Anderson and James Nachtwey, whose images bring the world of conflict and war much needed exposure and provide understanding to those who are not there to witness the tragic hand of war.

- Jamie MacDonald



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