Capa and ICP

It’s hard to understand the refusal of parts of the photography establishment, particularly the ICP (founded by Robert Capa‘s younger brother Cornell) and Magnum, to accept the detailed and thoroughly researched findings of A D Coleman and his team, including both photographic and military experts, into the story behind Capa’s D-Day pictures.

Perhaps the only explanation is that there is more still to hide, and Coleman’s latest post at Photocritic International, Alternate History: Robert Capa and ICP (1), promises to make clearer the role of the ICP not just in promulgating and valorising the myths about his D-Day pictures, but also to comment on the “comparable dishonesty tainting other Capa scholarship to date subsidized and/or sponsored by ICP“.

Of course Capa’s D-Day pictures remain. They were taken on the landing craft and beach in Normandy, if only from the edge of a relatively safe landing area, from which Capa took an early chance to leave after only exposing a handful of frames. There is a great paradox in that had Capa been more in control, his images would have lacked the rawness and immediacy that they have. Imagine them sharp and detailed, without the camera shake and they would be rather ordinary pictures of a military landing, probably those particular frames not standing out from others that might have been made as the photographer followed the advance up the beach.

As it is, the roughness of these images correlates in an extraordinary and entirely fortuitous fashion to Capa’s own emotional state, itself an entirely human reaction to the situation he found himself in. Capa wasn’t a soldier, and although he had photographed war before, this was on a larger scale, with greater noise and confusion, his panic is certainly understandable – even rational, though not what was expected of a war photographer working for Life.

That those few images that he managed to take on that morning came out so well was clearly a matter of luck, though that they came out at all reflected his experience as a photographer – even with shattered nerves he made camera settings that were at least somewhere close. But many great photographs need a little luck to raise them above the mundane.

Remarkably, Capa was able to force himself to get back to France and taking pictures very soon after this experience; I suspect that within minutes of leaving the beach he realised that he had failed and needed to pull himself together and get back as soon as possible. He can have had no idea at the time that his few exposures by their very faults would be turned into powerfully expressive images.

John Morris, when he saw those images, along with the more ordinary pre-invasion pictures also sent by Capa, appears to have realised their special quality, but also clearly would have seen that Capa would have been expected to turn in a far fuller story, and that the true story behind them would not reflect well on either Capa or the judgement of whoever had sent him to take them. And having invented the story which made his career it was certainly hard to admit it was false.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on Robert Capa still state “While under constant fire, Capa took 106 pictures, all but eleven were destroyed in a photo lab accident back in London.” The same fiction is also found in the entry The Magnificent Eleven. About time that these entries were corrected by someone – or have perhaps the photography establishment so far managed to veto this? On another page there is a discussion of the ‘Falling Soldier‘ image which does at least mention the various theories, including a claim that the picture was actually taken by Gerda Taro rather than Capa.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.