On December 3, 1938, Picture Post introduced “The Greatest War Photographer in the World: Robert Capa” with a spread of 26 photographs taken during the Spanish Civil War, at the battle of Ebro.
But the “greatest war photographer” hated war. Born Andre Friedmann to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, he studied political science at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in Berlin. At the same time he was working part-time in the lab of the Ullstein magazine group, to which he sold his first published picture, of Leon Trotsky’s 1931 Copenhagen meeting. Driven out of the country by the imminent Nazi regime, he settled in Paris in 1933.
He participated in the founding of the agency Alliance Photo and met the journalist and photographer Gerda Taro. Together, they invented the “famous” American photographer Robert Capa and began to sell Friedmann’s prints under that name. Friedmann/Capa met many artists, including the painter Pablo Picasso and the writer Ernest Hemingway, and formed friendships with fellow photographers David “Chim” Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.
Beginning in 1936, Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War appeared regularly in the magazines Vu, Regards, Ce Soir, Weekly Illustrated and Life. His 1936 picture of a Loyalist soldier shot and falling to his death earned him his international reputation and became a powerful symbol of war. In Spain, Capa also shot newsreels for “March of Time,” Time-Life’s film department.
After his companion Gerda Taro was killed in Spain, Capa traveled to China in 1938 and emigrated to New York a year later. From 1939 to 1945, as a correspondent in Europe for Life and Collier’s, he photographed World War II, covering the landing of American troops on Omaha Beach, the Liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1947, Capa founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. The following year he traveled to Russia with John Steinbeck, and from 1948 to 1950 to Israel with Irwin Shaw, completing the first of a number of stories for Holiday. In 1951, he became president of Magnum and initiated several group projects involving all of his colleagues.
On May 25, 1954, Robert Capa was photographing for Life in Thai- Binh, Indochina when he stepped on a land mine. The French Army awarded him the War Cross with Palm after his death. The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award was established by the Overseas Press Club in 1955 to reward photographers of exceptional professional merit.