It would be my good fortune to come across a book of photographs by a man who was once labeled “The Greatest War-Photographer in the World”. Robert Capa is credited with photographing a number of wars, both in the heat of battle and all aspects of life that surround it. In a book of 241 pages of black and white photos, my first instinct of course was to search for blood. I found it without even trying. Page 192 presented me with a full page photo of an American soldier who had been firing his gun from a balcony and was shot by a German sniper. The man was on the ground, his head had hit the door and was propped up as if he’d just taken to laying low or simply laying down, but pooling just in the foreground of his body was a dark liquid I know well from other war photos I’ve seen before, the man’s own blood. To me, these types of photos are intoxicating. In a way, it’s sick to want to look at them, but I can’t look away. There’s something so fake, yet so real and the black and white element makes them less shocking, and more thought provoking. Being in black and white, you lose the gross, special effect look and are left with real, raw life…or lifeless stills. Sometimes when I look at an image, I just know it will be my favorite of the collection, even if I have yet to look at any of the others. That is the case with this photo.
The next photo I found is one of a woman and her dog in Barcelona. They are running, from what, I am unsure or to what, I don’t know. But what I like about it is that at first glance they seem to be the only two present and it wasn’t until further inspection that I could make out other people in the background. This is because Capa used a quick shutter speed. He froze the woman and her dog in time and the rest of the background is a blur.
Capa managed to capture worry and fright, sickening sadness, confusion and shame as well as excitement and a touch of love. He included a photo of an older woman and a child I am taking to be her granddaughter. The photo is up close and simply heartbreaking. The people depicted in this particular section of the collection were left homeless due to a bombing. The woman is crying, the anguish on her face is blatant, one arm is crossed across her body while the other is curled up into her face. The child, holding onto the skirt of her elder, peers out from behind the woman with an innocent expression. You can’t pose a shot like this and expect it to yield the same emotion. Capa also managed to capture a moment of goodbye shared between a young soldier who is about to depart and the woman I take to be his love. The two are lost in their own world, he has his hand around her back securely, the other on her cheek, she is holding onto his arm, both are smiling, both are gazing admiringly at one another. I see time and opportunities as things that come and go far too quickly. Capa seems to make the most of each second in time and every opportunity with which he is presented. I suppose this is why he earned the title that he did, simply because the moments he captures are breathtaking, some in a good sense as in the photo I just described of the couple, and others in a bad sense, for example a photo of a man running while holding his child. The way the photo is laid out, the man holding the child is in the center and it appears that there is another man running at him, the first man’s expression is one that says “I need to get out of his way”; in the background there are people moving swiftly in the same direction as the men in the foreground. This is apparent because all of them seem to have been stopped in the same stance, sort of a jogging motion.
You wouldn’t think that war photos could be so beautiful, but that is what I honestly think of Capa’s work.
Book information: Oversize TR 820.4 C354 1985 – Robert Capa – Photographs
As always I am RJ and if you’re reading this line, you’re going to be disappointed when you reach the end of it…see? Told you.