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The Photojournalist Robert Capa

Capa Center is showcasing a selection of one of the most well-known, Hungarian-born photographers, Robert Capa’s oeuvre. Images on view are selected from the collection of the almost one thousand Capa photographs of the Hungarian National Museum.

The Photojournalist Robert Capa

Robert Capa (Endre Friedmann, October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) is considered the unique visual chronicler of several 20th-century wars (the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War, the First Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War) both in the world and the Hungarian history of photography.

The Hungarian photographer, who covered five wars directly from the battlefield, made his mark in photography in the course of his tragically short life. His photographs taken in the frontlines and in the heartland brought about a visual world establishing a new school, and he showed the power of images constructed from a deep sense of humanism to generations to come, up till today.

The world-wide fame was brought to Capa by his photograph taken in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, titled Death of a loyalist militiaman, Córdoba front, Spain, but one of the saddest moments of his life – losing his love and colleague, the Polish Gerda Taro –, is also tied to this time period.

As it was characteristic of him, he created his photographs depicting soldiers and partisans, ordinary moments and battles, from the perspective of the participant observer, with unlimited empathy. He was there with them, really close, and this is how his images were born. In his own famous words: If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.

It was Capa’s idea in 1947 to found the Magnum Photos photo agency together with the photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David “Chim” Seymour.

Magnum Photos, which was created by “adventurers with ethics,” as Henri Cartier-Bresson described themselves, and considered independence to be its core value, has been in operations since, celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2017. The essential principles of the world-renowned photo agency are still the faith in the importance of photographic visualization; respecting the individual perspective, and following one’s inner compass in the choosing of the subject and the realization; as well as the continuous dialogue about the social role of photography, and the peculiarities of the existence of the image.

Repairing war-damaged buildings on the Corso, the fashionable street that runs along the Danube on the Pest side of the river, Budapest © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Repairing war-damaged buildings on the Corso, the fashionable street that runs along the Danube on the Pest side of the river, Budapest © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Loyalist militiamen jumping over a gully, Córdoba front, Spain © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Loyalist militiamen jumping over a gully, Córdoba front, Spain © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Soldiers in Republican bunkers around the Clinical Hospital, one of the principal bastions of the Nationalist rebels in the University City, Madrid © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Soldiers in Republican bunkers around the Clinical Hospital, one of the principal bastions of the Nationalist rebels in the University City, Madrid © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Boy soldier, Hankou, China © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
Boy soldier, Hankou, China © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

On the Robert Capa Collection in Hungary

Via the photographs purchased in 2008, Budapest has become one of the most important safe-keepers of the Capa estate besides New York and Tokyo. The series titled Master’s Set III, presenting the life of Robert Capa, includes 937 enlargements created in the 1990s.  These photographs were selected by Cornell Capa (Robert Capa’s younger brother), and photo historian Richard Whelan (Robert Capa’s monographer) between 1990 and 1992 out of the close to 70 thousand negatives left behind by Capa.

In accordance with their decision, only these three sets of enlargements could and can be made of these negatives in the future. The photographs are recognizable by the embossed stamp mimicking Capa’s signature, which is on the right side below the enlargements.

The series – as intended by Cornell Capa and Richard Whelan, – includes the images most representative of Capa’s full oeuvre from between 1932 and 1954, almost from the first image to the last.

 

The Photojournalist Robert Capa

– the showcased selection presents close to 50 images of Capa’s oeuvre, from the photograph capturing Trotsky’s speech from one of his first assignments to a picture exposed in the Indochina War.

Our aim was to uncover the essential force of the oeuvre as a whole.

Also, with the powerful accents of the exhibited thematic units, we would like to expose the compositional virtuosity of Robert Capa, together with the images constructed from his thorough, minute observations, and his unique capability for capturing fast occurring actions.

Furthermore, we considered it to be important to complement the world-famous images with photographs taken before and after them, that is, to showcase the “heartland” together with the familiar pictures. On one of the exhibited photographs on the Spanish Civil War, Federico Borell Garcia is depicted, the same person appearing in the Death of a loyalist militiaman, Córdoba front, Spain (‘The Falling Soldier’), while among the D-Day images, we can see a photograph taken of the French fishermen looking at the lined-up bodies of dead soldiers.

Robert Capa found it important to not only capture the event itself but also the preceding occurrences and the consequences: a war never starts with the first shot, and it does not end with the last one. These photographs don’t only present the world of wars, but they are also safe-keepers of Robert Capa’s images capturing the moments of peace.

18 of the showcased photographs have been matted and framed specifically for this exhibition, so this is the first time that these images from the collection of Robert Capa’s photographs held in Budapest are presented to the public.

Gabriella Csizek