martes, 22 de octubre de 2013


Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. Vietnam. Published in FV Foto-Vídeo Actualidad Photography Magazine Number 232

Robert Capa´s grave at Amawalk Cemetery (New York)

Today is the Centenary of Robert Capa (born in Budapest on October 22, 1913), one of the most important war photographers ever, a genuine representative of war photojournalism who made a lot of extraordinary pictures in five different wars (Spanish Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, Second World War in Europe, Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and First Indochina War), founder of Magnum Agency and a man whose constant defense of his workmates through the concept of the preservation of original negatives and their ownership by the photographers getting the pictures was to revolutionize the modern photojournalism.

But Robert Capa never considered himself to be the best war photographer in the world.

Such designation was bestowed upon him by Stefan Lorant, owner and picture editor of Picture Post, after the publication of his superb photographs of the Battle of Segre River with shells exploding all around him, but he never felt at ease with such denomination, since he nurtured a deep respect for his trade colleagues, among whom highlighted world class photojournalists like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Eugene Smith, David Seymour Chim, Werner Bischof, Ernst Haas, Carl Mydans, David Douglas Duncan, Elliot Elisofon and many others.

5:45 a.m. It dawns in Thanh Né, Kien Xuong District, Province of Thai Binh (Vietnam). Robert Capa died when stepping on a mine in a large rice paddy located at three kilometers from this township on May 25, 1954.

Nevertheless, his hugely agile and dynamic style of photographing, always striving after being in the suitable place at the adequate moment, approaching as much as possible to the persons he captured, often risking his life, his arduous steady struggle to create the images from the most manifold angles feasible, photographing the most defining instants, his deep love for the peoples of every country in which he worked, his sincere empathy and compromise with the human beings whom he immortalized with his cameras, usually depicting them in dramatic contexts of misery, anguish, uncertainty, fear to death, utmost necessity, etc, turned him into the embodiment of a new war photographer breed working at great speed and with a very accurate timing handling the new miniature format 35 mm Leica (between 1932 and mid May 1937) and Contax (between late May 1937 and May 1954) cameras, albeit his remarkable versatility enabled him to also use the medium format 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ binocular Rolleiflex (since 1939).

Images like Leon Trotsky During his Speech in Copenhaguen in 1932; the Harangue to the Republican Militiamen in the Finca of Villa Alicia by two anarchist chiefs at midday of September 5, 1936, encouraging them to pluck up courage against the impending battle against the professional Francoist troops; his coverage of the Escape of the Refugees of Cerro Muriano across the north exit of the village fleeing from the air raid on it; the iconic picture Death of a Loyalist Militiaman; his impressive photographs taken near Fraga (Aragon Front) during the Republican Offensive in Segre River in 1938 capturing the explosion of shells of Francoist ordnance going off within very few meters from the spot where he is located risking his life and in which you can almost perceive the smell of powder; The Woman Running by Her Dog to Take Shelter from the Aerial Sortie against Barcelona in January of 1939; the Escape of Catalonian Refugees across the Barcelona-Taragona Road (including the dantesque images of the stunned old woman walking around his carriage strafed by Italian fighters in low flight which have killed all of his relatives, along with two mules and a dog); the Refugees Going on Foot across the Barcelona- French Frontier Road; his reportage in the Refugees Camps of Argelès-sur-Mer and Le Barcares in March 1939; the first wave attacking Omaha Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944 under the German bullets, with plenty of American soldiers dying around him while he gets the pictures jeopardizing his life at every moment; the Exceedingly Young American Soldier Handling a Machine Gun in the Balcony of a House in Leipzig Who is Suddenly Killed by a Bullet in His Head Shot by a German Sniper on April 18, 1945; his fabulous pictures of Pablo Picasso in his Paris Attelier in September 1944; his images taken in Russia and Ukraine during his Trip with John Steinbeck in August and September of 1947; his series in the Kibbutz of Negba (Israel) in 1949; the Little Girl Crying on the Left of the Image in the Temporary Camp for Immigrants in Sha ´arha ´aliya, Haifa (Israel) in 1950; the Blind Immigrants and Their Families near Gedera (Israel) in November-December 1950; his touching images of Children in Tokyo, Osaka, Nara and Atami in April 1954; the Disconsolate Young Vietnamese Woman Holding Her Little Child While Crying by the Tomb of Her Husband in a Military Cemetery and many others (the list would be huge) make up by themselves exceptionally valuable graphic documents bearing witness to a lot of moments of seminal significance throughout XX Century and above all what war is really about and his aftermaths for the human beings suffering it.


May 24, 1954. Coming from Gia Lam airport in Hanoi, Capa has just arrived at a French airbase located in the south outskirts of Nam Dinh (45 miles in the southeast of North Vietnam capital) on board of a little Morane Saulnier MS-500 Criquet adapted aircraft with a French made 8 cylinder and 240 hp Argus As 10 engine together with John Mecklin (Time´s correspondent) and general René Cogny, commander of the French Forces in North Vietnam.

In spite of the short distance between both cities, it has been decided the transport by plane of both journalists and the high officer to avoid the risks that would involve a trip by land, because the Vietminh is very active in the areas of Thu´ o´ ng Tin, Cao Cuán, Phú Xuyén, Hu´ng Yên, Duy Tiên, Kim Báng, Lý Nhân, Hanh Liêm and Binh Luc, which occupy the space separating them from north to slightly southwest, and the French high command wants to guarantee as much as possible the security of the three men (Donald M. Wilson, correspondant of Life magazine in Indochina, who had accompanied Capa in Laos between May 10 and 16, 1954 during the coverage of the transfer of seriously wounded French soldiers by helicopters coming from Dien Bien Phu and who were subsequently taken to Hanoi by plane to be treated, had given his seat to John Mecklin, because the small airplane had only two places for journalists and besides, he had to type some pending chronicles for Life office in New York).

General René Cogny photographed by Robert Capa inside the Morane Saulnier MS-500 Criquet aircraft during the flight from Hanoi to Nam Dinh on Monday May 24, 1954, a few minutes before landing in the French Air Base of Nam Dinh. © Robert Capa / ICP New York

Therefore, the small aircraft lands in the French airbase of Nam Dinh, placed a few km in the south of Nam Dinh, and from there, Capa, Mecklin and general René Cogny go to Nam Dinh City by car, 

being received by Jean Lacapelle, commander of the French sector in that area, who suggests them to accompany him the following day during a mission of retreat of forces which will consist of evacuating and destroying the small French strongholds of Doaithan and Thanh Né, placed in far southeast of the Kien Xuong District of Thai Binh Province, near the boundary with Tien Han District.

A few hours later, Capa attends to an important meeting held inside the Nam Dinh French headquarters, getting pictures of general René Cogny and colonel Paul Vanuxen studying in some maps the current situation in the area. Unlike three years before when Jean de Lattre de Tassigny could held the city moving three armoured brigades and managing to curb the Viet Minh attack and its supply lines on June 6, 1953, preserving the control of the Red River Delta, now the French high officers knew that Nguyen Giap´s change of strategy towards widespread guerrilla warfare aiming at an attritional, protracted war, aided by plentiful manpower, and enhanced by proficient secret movements of troops to the ambushes positions avoiding the spotting from ground or air, subsequently performing a swift dispersal of troops during withdrawal, was paying off and the Vietminh forces dominated vast majority of rural areas in the Red River (Hông Sông) Delta.

Therefore, the French high command scheme would be to abandon the little garrisons of their own located in rural zones, impossible to defend against the guerrilla tactics and the deep knowledge of the ground by Vietminh, focusing their efforts on the important cities.

In the afternoon, Capa and Mecklin go by car to the village of Phu Ly, around 40 km in the west of Nam Dinh, where they´re reported by French soldiers that the Viet Minh is holding sway over the area and is carrying out frequent sorties.

In the night, after having returned to Nam Dinh, they lodge at a ramshackle boarding house called Modern Hotel, where they meet Jim Lucas, correspondant of Scripps-Howard, whom Capa had firstly met in Hanoi.

May 25, 1954
At 7:00 a.m, Capa, Mecklin and Lucas mount on a jeep of the French army waiting for them beside the door of the Modern Hotel and head for the northeast outskirts of Nam Dinh to go to Thai Binh.

A few kilometers later, they wait by a stretch of the Red River (Sông Hông) for the French Force made up by 2,000 thousand men and 200 motor vehicles (including jeeps, trucks and tanks) to be ferried to the other side of this large fluvial way.

After crossing the river, the column of French troops advances in the direction of Thai Binh Province, penetrating into its area of Vu Thu, and approximately at 8:40 a.m, 

they are attacked in the stretch of road between Bong Dien and Nghia Khe by Vietminh snipers who make long distance shots (between 500 and 800 meters) with Russian Mosin Nagant M44 caliber 7.62 x 54R caliber rifles and medium distance shots (between 350 and 400 meters) with Russian SKS caliber 7.62 x 39 mm carbines, bringing about some casualties among the drivers of the leading tracks.

The stress increases by bounds and leaps. The French and South Vietnamese soldiers of the column fear an encircling manoeuver by Viet Minh forces, who are camouflaged within the exceedingly lavish surrounding vegetation and clearly outnumber them. Besides, all of them are afraid of the possibility of being attacked with satchel mines, 57 mm Type 36 guns (Chinese copies of the American M18A1 recoiless rifle) or the much more effective SKZ 75 mm Sung Khong Giat recoiless rifles (designed by Tran Dai Nghia and manufactured in workshops with exceedingly low cost through the use of steel rails turned into bazooka components with tolerances below 0.5 mm) which could destroy the tanks of the French column.

But general Nguyên Giáp, a master of logistics, managing with great ability the Viet Minh troops and a man featuring an outstanding intelligence and wisdom, doesn´t want to massacre the French troops performing a pitched battle, because of two main reasons:

a) The French troops are well equipped with automatic and semiautomatic guns and have a number of tanks. In addition, its officers belong to the French Legion, an elite unit, so a massive combat of such nature would make inevitable a high toll of casualties in his own ranks. As a matter of fact, a year before, the Viet Minh had launched an all-around battle against Nà Sân during the spring of 1953, and after very fierce combats and a high figure of killed soliders by both sides, the French material superiority prevailed in synergy with the hedgehog defense incepted by colonels Jean Gilles and Louis Bertil (Deputy Chief of Staff of General André Navarre, supreme comnander of the French Forces in Indochina. 

b) Giáp knows that during the first week of May 1954 France studied the possibility of launching a massive aerial raid against the Viet Minh positions on the hills around Dien Bien Phu with bombers and fighters (as a matter of fact, Viet Minh forces have been being attacked by American P-63 fighters - between 1949 and early 1951- , F8F Bearcats and F6F Hellcats fighters - between March 1951 and the present May 1954- and modified C-119 Flying Boxcars, all of them bought from USA, which have dropped bombs and napalm on them as a support to the French ground forces), and even Vulture Operation incepted to wholly disrupt the Vietminh forces around Dien Bien Phu included the possibility of dropping three atomic bombs against the Viet Minh forces besieging Dien Bien Phu, to break the encirclement, though finally the good criterion of President Dwight W. Eisenhower prevailed and U.S didn´t support such initiative.

Besides, the U.S intelligence had spotted that Nguyen Giap cunning had foreseen that hypothesis, progressively advancing very much Viet Minh´s trenches towards the French strongholds in Dien Bien Phu, until being at only few meters distance from them, in such a way that from late April 1954 it would have been impossible for France to carry out any all out air raid separating the fortress itself from the blast range of both conventional or nuclear bombs which could be dropped

At the same time, he knows that the remarkable victory of Die Bien Phu meant a huge cost in lives for its men, specially on capturing Beatrice, Gabrielle and Isabelle strongpoints through wave attacks, defended by the professional French troops with great courage against forces outnumbering them.

It wasn´t finally done and Dien Bien Phu fell in Viet Minh hands on May 7, 1954, but the highly experienced Vietnamese general knows that if he gives order to annihilate the French column through a full scale onslaught, those having created the Indochina War to earn money would have a further pretext to increase the military escalade and even pondering again the possibility of carpet bombing or a nuclear attack which would result in vary harmful consequencies for the Vietnamese people, so he has chosen a guerrilla warfare based on effective attacks in specific moments by means of snipers and mortars, which progressively undermine the enemy´s morale, augmenting their fatigue, making them feel that they´re being watched at every moment and that they could be obliterated them at any moment, with a clear message: Vietnam is our country, this is a war that you can´t win, go away as soon as possible.

The French tanks of the column open fire, but the huge camouflage ability with the ground of Viet Minh guerrilla men and their great speed of movements makes their spotting fairly difficult.

On the other hand, temperature approaches 40º C, with thermal feeling of around 48 C, because of the very high humidity levels of Vietnam. Therefore, heat is scorching and the 2,000 soldiers and officers of the column sweat blood, in the same way as Capa, Mecklin and Lucas.

After some minutes of stressful wait, the column resumes its march, but once again, they are attacked a few kilometers beyond, 

in the stretch of road between Thuong Dien and La Dien, very near the river Song Mu Khe, when one of the trucks crosses on a mine and the explosion kills four men and leaves other six seriously wounded.

From here on, while the French column passes between Hoa Binh and Song An areas, the Viet Minh increases its pressure, attacking with 60 mm and 81 mm North Vietnamese made mortars and 82 mm Russian mortars and snipers equipped with Mosin Nagant M44 rifles and SKS carbines which beget some more casualties in its back.

Once more, the French tanks open fire, in the same way as many French soldiers shooting volleys with their Mat-49 submachine guns, Mas-36 and Mas-49 rifles and M1 Garand carbines, but with scarce effectiveness, since it´s virtually impossible to spot the Viet Minh soldiers, due to the very abundant vegetation surrounding them, so what they only get is to fire some adjacent villages.

Throughout all the time, Capa has been getting pictures, moving quickly to and fro, and both Mecklin and Lucas have been able to realize how his outstanding experience (a veteran of five wars) makes him take risks only when he deems that a good photograph can be made.

The column goes on advancing, cross the zones of Vu Phúc and Vu Hoy and enter the District of Kien Xuong (belonging to Thai Binh Province), 

with the column following east direction between the area of Vu Qúy and Kien Giang river, until they arrive at Dongquithon fort, where they are briefed that there will be a delay of some hours, for the Vietminh has cut the road a few hundred meters beyond with some wide and deep trenches and has blown off the accesses to two bridges.

Capa runs quickly to the front of the column and photographs the bulldozers and two hundred prisoners of the Viet Minh while they repair the road.

The French officer of Dongquithon fort invites Capa, Mecklin and Lucas to have breakfast inside the small stronghold, but Capa decides to go on taking photographs for a while.

Shortly after, bathed in sweat and exhausted, Capa lies on the ground under the shade of a truck, where Mecklin and Lucas find him at 14:00 h in the afternoon.

Some minutes later, they hear that the most advanced vehicles of the column have already arrived at Doaithan fort, so they mount on their jeep and dodging the rest of vehicles and tanks of the column, reach the little and damaged fort of Doaithan, surrounded by barbed wire and dense vegetation, at 14:25 h in the afternoon, noticing that it is already being abandoned by its garrison, who is putting explosives in its merloned structure.

The column renews its march and 200 meters beyond, a new ambush by Viet Minh kills some more soldiers within the French troops.

The heat is unbearable and fatigue has had an effect among the 2,000 men of the column for a long time.

Capa asks lieutenant colonel Jean Lacapelle if there have been any new developments and his answer is laconic: ´ Viet Minh is everywhere ´ .

Capa is very tired, but his love for his profession and his steady fight to get new and better pictures, make him decide to jump on the front area of the jeep to take further images from a different and more elevated angle.

The column advances again eastbound, but once more is forced to stop by the combined action of Viet Minh snipers using SKS carbines and Mosin Nagant M44 rifles and Russian M1937, M1941 and M1943 82 mm mortars, and 60 mm and 81 mm North Vietnamese mortars handcraftedly made in workshops located in the mountains with tools transferred from the Caron factory at Haiphong under the supervision of engineer Tran Dai N´Ghia, top expert of Viet Minh about military technology, with background in both the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale Superiore de l ´Aeronautique of Paris, and whose gift enabled to produce a number of effective weapons with exceedingly low budgets and means, including a more than acceptable copy of the 81 mm American M1 mortar and its 3,11 kg M43A1 HE shells, and the optimized for portability Type 31 60 mm mortar ( a copy of the American M2 brainstormed by Tran Dai N´Ghia reducing costs to the utmost and with a range loss of only 300 hundred meters) and 60 mm Type 63 mortar (an updated version of the Type 31 in which the Vietnamese scientist attained to also reduce costs shortening the barrel length 11´64 cm with respect to the M2). 

They are being attacked from different distances, because the Viet Minh snipers, located on both sides of the road, are shooting them from between 350 and 400 meters the ones equipped with SKS carbines and between 500 and 800 meters the ones using Mosin Nagant M44 rifles, while on their turn, the mortar crews of Viet Minh feature a huge experience and prowess in the handle of this gun, being able to determine the fire azimuth and its elevation adjustments in very few seconds, shooting their 60 mm, 81 mm and 82 mm shells with great accuracy and keeping to a minimum the time required to bring effective fires on the targets and changing quickly of position, managing to simultaneously protect mortars from enemy watching and direct fire.

Capa perceives clearly the huge danger and that Viet Minh is getting the upper hand shooting from the nearby woods, camouflaged within the thick vegetation and without any need to force a massive clash of forces, and they hold the initiative as to where and when to strike., keeping the French column under continuous observation from vantage points, it all fulfilled with great mobility and speed and selecting the most appropriate terrains for continuous ambushes, simultaneously managing to provide concealment to prevent detection from the ground or air, and grasping the element surprise and tactical initiative at every moment. Needless to say that the stamina of the French and South Vietnamese soldiers of the French column is waning because of these constant ambushes they´ve been suffering from some hours.

It isn´t the first time that Bob watches a context of attack with fire of mortars, something that already happened to him in December 1944 when he was embedded among the tanks of the 37º battalion of the U.S 4th Armoured Division which made its way through Bastogne to help the 101st Airborne Division surrounded by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge and specially a year before, on December 30, 1943, while he accompanied the vanguard elements of the 180th regiment of the U.S 45th Division during an incursion on Venafro, a strategic Italian township in the Province of Isernia, region of Molise (Italia), when suddenly they were attacked by German mortar fire which killed an American soldier beside him, as a consequence of the impact of three shrapnel fragments.

But even fully aware that the risk is very high, Capa goes on getting pictures, moving around. Mecklin and Lucas can see how Capa is jeopardizing his life for the nth time, trying to get the best possible images.

He can distinctly  hear the whistling of the high velocity 7,62 x 39 mm and 7,62 x 54R bullets shot by Viet Minh snipers featuring outstanding marksmanship, who keep on making casualties, along with the explosions of the 60 mm, 81 mm and 82 mm shells launched by the Russian and Vietnamese mortars of Viet Minh, which are provoking panic.

They´ve left Doaithan 1 km behind and they´re only 3 kilometers from Thanh Né, the final destiny of the French column.

Stress is maximum. Suddenly, Mecklin and Lucas see Bob coming back running to the jeep and taking shelter behind one of his sides. He´s looking at the nearby woods, trying to scan the trajectory of Vietminh rifle, carbine and mortar fire that is being unleashed on the column.

The photographer remains crouched behind the vehicle, endeavouring to protect himself from a possible sniper bullet or from the shrapnel of mortar shells, the latter being the most dreaded, since the 60 mm rounds of Vietminh Type 31 and Type 63 mortars have a lethal range on exploding of around 22 meters, while their 81 mm and 82 mm mortars rounds have approximately a lethal range of around 35 meters on going off. 

Adrenalin is amplified many times over. A hail of rifle and carbine bullets along with mortar shells shot by Vietminh soldiers is falling on the French column in which Capa is embedded. 

This has turned into a hell. The photographer knows that he must play it all out if he wants to get good pictures. Not in vain this has been his biotope for eighteen years since the Spanish Civil War, in which he had his baptism fire.

Robert Capa consistently attained to add a human side to his powerful war photographs throughout his entire professional career as a photojournalist, and his touching images still set standards in the scope of concerned photography. And everywhere he went, he managed to connect with people. His most important aim during his lifetime was to get the independence of photographers, who should own their own negatives, being able to sell their pictures for more than one magazine at a time, controlling their work and being respected.

As a matter of fact, his whole life has been a poker game, without a fixed abode, without a country, always roving and fighting for survival, since being only seventeen years old he became a political exile who had to flee Budapest in the morning of July 12, 1931 and emigrate to Berlin, which he would also have to subsequently abandon escaping from the Nazi anti-semitism.

Capa decides to leave the protection of the jeep and goes on getting pictures at full speed, taking the risks that his experience enables him to calculate if the chance of taking good photographs requires that way, but always with the presence of uncertainty and hazard factor, who can bring about the death of any war photographer, suddenly, in an unexpected way, at any moment.

The French troops have been advancing for some minutes across a large rice field located on the left of the road leading to Thanh Né. They walk slowly, very cautiously, and some of them are wearing mine detectors. And in spite of the suffocating heat, all the soldiers have their helmets on, because they are afraid of being shot in the head by Viet Minh snipers.

Capa, who is using two rangefinder cameras (a 24 x 36 mm format Contax IIa Black Dial made by Zeiss Ikon A.G Stuttgart with a coated Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50 mm f/2 T lens and monochrome Kodak Super-XX film and a Nippon Kogaku 24 x 34 mm format Nikon S with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 lens and Kodachrome K-11 ISO 12 colour film) takes them some pictures from various angles, mostly in black and white.

It´s 14:55 h in the afternoon and Capa makes his two last photographs:

a) One in colour with his Nikon S in which he captures seventeen soldiers of the French column from behind (one of them, placed on the left of the image, is a wireless specialist man, while the one located on the right nearest to the camera is wearing a mine detector) and a tank that can be glimpsed in the background, slightly on the right of the picture.

                               © Robert Capa / ICP New York. 

On the right of the image can be seen the dike of a rivulet flowing on the right along with its slight slope giving to the road.

b) Another one in black and white made with his Contax IIa, in which he captures nine men of the French column, also from behind. This is the last picture made by Capa, a few seconds before stepping on the mine, which was located on the slope visible on the right just beyond the small dike, an area that almost 60 years later is covered by trees and very dense vegetation.

                               © Robert Capa / ICP New York. 

It can be seen that with respect to the previous picture in colour, Capa has quickly advanced diagonally towards the right, trying to get a picture from a different angle and in which both soldiers and the tank fill more the frame, in such a way that the tank which in the previous colour image appears slightly on the right of the middle area of the framing, now is visible on far left, while both the small dike and the slight slope beyond it appear much nearer.

Shortly after, Capa decides to advance towards the slope, probably with the aim of getting more pictures from a more elevated position, and on starting going it up, he steppes on an antipersonal mine which had been installed at night by Viet Minh, who had detailed knowledge of the terrain.

The explosion tears off his left leg and opens a huge wound in his chest.

Simultaneously, the expansive wave throws his Nikon S some meters away (the photojournalist Sal di Marco could see in early seventies some blood stains in this camera, when it was displayed at the Old Nikon House of New York, being currently property of the Nikon Historical Society), while Capa, unconscious and lying on his back on the floor, has his left hand still grabbing his Contax IIa camera with which he has made his last picture, in black and white.

Mecklin and Lucas arrive at the place of the explosion at 15:10 h in the afternoon. Capa has lost a lot of blood and is agonizing. Suddenly, colonel Lacapelle, who has heard the detonation, arrives. He sees Capa on the ground and quickly calls an ambulance which takes Bob to the first aid post located in Dong Qui Thon fort, 5 km behind, where a Vietnamese doctor certifies Capa´s death.

After Robert Capa´s demise, the foundations of Magnum Agency, conceived by him and of which he was his foremost driving force, crumbled, a fact that was even more apparent with the almost simultaneous death of the genius Werner Bischof, who was Bob´s best friend along with John G. Morris and David Seymour ´Chim´.

From this moment on, there were a number of people who began working strenuously to continue the work accomplished by Robert Capa and his defense of the rights of the photographers together with the ownership of the original negatives: Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour ´Chim´, Cornell Capa, John G. Morris, Inge Bondi, Margot Shore, Ernst Haas, Inge Morath, Elliott Erwitt, Eve Arnold, Dennis Stock, Burt Glinn and many others.

At the same time, it started to be created a team of people who would devote many years of their lives to the classification and organization of the immense photographic legacy of Robert Capa, made up by approximately 70,000 35 mm and 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format negatives, along with thousands of vintage copies and later ones: Cornell Capa, his wife Edie Schwartz and Allan Brown began the task in mid fifties, and Anna Winand (Kornél´s secretary) and James A. Fox (one of the most important picture editors in history and editor-in-chief of Magnum Paris between 1976 and 2000) arrived in mid sixties, until the Fund for Concerned Photography was founded in 1966, with Rossellina Bischof and Eileen Shneiderman (David Seymour Chim´s sister) also being instrumental in its creation.

They all made an enormous and exceedingly important work, whose fruit would be the birth of the International Center of Photography in New York, in whose inception Mischa Bar-am likewise collaborated in a significant way.

ICP of New York. The steady efforts made by Cornell Capa, his wife Edie, Allan Brown, Anna Winand, Rossellina Bischof, Eileen Shneiderman, Mischa Bar-am, James A. Fox, Richard Whelan, Brian Wallis, Willis Hartshorne, Cynthia Young, Kristen Lubben, Fritz Block, master printer Teresa Engle Moreno, master printer Igor Bakht, Jeffrey A. Rosen, Caryl S. Englander, Mark Robbins, Gayle G. Greenhill, Frederick Sievert, Stephanie H. Shuman and others have turned this sancta sanctorum of top-notch photography into the most important flagship in its scope all over the world, and what began as an institution mainly devoted to preserve the photographic legacy of Robert Capa, David Seymour Chim and the genius Werner Bischof has turned into a venue of great and historical exhibitions of pictures made by a myriad of photographers from five continents, as well as being a top-of-the-line center for teaching of photography imparting a number of courses and seminars. 

Amazingly, the elapse of years has made that Robert Capa´s photographic work and his prestige as a photographer increases more and more, along with his far-reaching significance in the History of Photojournalism, until reaching the present moment, a hundred years after his birth and almost sixty after his death.

As a matter of fact, throughout the last five years, between 2009 and 2013, there have been unusual levels of interest and expectation regarding the pictures made by Capa during his 22 years of professional career, with a number of historical exhibitions being held all over the world like This is War! Robert Capa at Work organized by Cynthia Young (Assistant Curator of the ICP New York) with great effort and painstaking care in New York, London, Barcelona, Milan, Madrid and Paris; Robert Capa at the Ludwig Museum of Budapest between July 3 and October 11, 2009; Robert Capa in China at the Leica Gallery of Vienna between February 13, 2013 and April 13, 2013; Capa 1943-45 at the Galerie Daniel Blau, Paris Photo, between November 14 and 17 of 2013; Robert Capa Retrospective at Villa Marin Passariano del Friuli (Italy) between October 20, 2013 and January 19, 2014 and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography between March and June 2014; Robert Capa 100 held in the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts of Seoul between August 2 and October 28, 2013; Robert Capa in Italy 1943-1944 at the Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi (between October 3, 1013 and January 6, 2014) which will be also displayed at the Museo Nazionale della Fotografia Fratelli Alinari in Florence between January 10 and March 30, 2014; Robert Capa 100 Years which is being held at present in the Hungarian National Museum of Budapest from September 18, 2013 and will last until January 12, 2014; Capa in Colour to be held at the ICP of New York between January 31 and March 4, 2014, and many others.

Another great event that has fostered even more the comprehensive photographic legacy of Robert Capa has been the finding of the famous Mexican Suitcase, including 4,500 original black and white negatives exposed by Capa, David Seymour ´Chim´ and Gerda Taro during the Spanish Civil War, along with some ones exposed by Fred Stein in Paris and with which an itinerant worldwide exhibition has been held in New York, Arlés, The National Museum of Art of Catalonia, the Museum of Bellas Artes of Madrid, etc.

© Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Article The Death of Robert Capa published in FV Photography Magazine Number 232