War seen through a lens

By Lee Woo-young

Robert Capa exhibit shows photographs that chronicle the photographer’s adventures in major battles of the 20th century

  • Published : Aug 12, 2013 - 19:50
  • Updated : Aug 12, 2013 - 19:50
Robert Capa, Segovia front, Spain, late May-early June 1937 by Gerda Taro (© International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos)
Rare original prints by the late Robert Capa are on exhibit in Seoul for the first time to mark the centennial of the photographer’s birth and the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War.

Hailed as the world’s greatest war photographer, Capa captured moments that became iconic war images and inspire many photojournalists and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg to this day.

The exhibition features 160 photographs selected from the 937 photographs of the Capa collection at the International Center for Photography in New York, founded by Capa’s brother Cornell in 1974.

“There are some four to five original prints at the ICP. Among them, two to three prints are owned by private collectors, one by Capa’s brother Cornell, and the remaining piece travels for photo exhibitions,” said Yang Hyung-jeong, coordinator for the Robert Capa Seoul exhibition at Sejong Art Center. 
“Death of a Loyalist Militiaman,” Cordoba front, Spain, early September 1936 by Robert Capa. (International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos)

The photos on exhibit consist of war images from major battles of the early 20th century and portraits of leading cultural figures of the period such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway.

The war photographs make up a large proportion of the exhibition, covering five wars: the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Sino-Japanese War that Capa covered in 1938, World War II, the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 and the French Indochina War in 1954.

Capa was always at the frontlines of major conflicts to capture moments such as a Spanish soldier collapsing after being shot in the head during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and American troops landing on a section of the French Normandy coast codenamed Omaha Beach in 1944.

The blurred image of the amphibious landing of American troops was published in Life magazine with the caption that reads “immense excitement of the moment made photographer Capa move his camera and blur pictures.” The picture inspired the director Spielberg in creating the opening battle scene in his 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

Capa later wrote in his book “Slightly out of Focus”: “The bullets tore holes in the water around me, and I made for the nearest steel obstacle … It was still very early and very gray for good pictures, but the gray water and the gray sky made the little men, dodging under the surrealistic designs of Hitler’s anti-invasion brain trust, very effective.”

There remain only 10 photographs of the life-and-death moment because of a mistake his assistant made in the printing process, according to the exhibition catalog.

As intense as the war photos look, his photographs have been the subject of controversy. An unconfirmed claim relates how the Spanish solider shot in the head was killed when Capa asked him to run down the exposed hill for a photo.

Capa died on a battlefield at age 41, at the end of the French Indochina War in 1954. He died after he left his jeep to take a photo and stepped on a landmine.

A 90-minute-long PBS documentary is screened during the exhibition starting at 10:30 a.m.

The Robert Capa exhibition continues through Oct. 28 at Sejong Art Center.

Admission is 12,000 won for adults, 8,000 won for teenagers and 7,000 won for children. For more information, visit www.robertcapa.co.kr or call (02) 3701-1216.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@herladcorp.com)