Dodging bullets at the Normandy landings on D Day, caught in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, and wading through the carnage of the London blitz, it’s the sort of CV that attracts medals but for Robert Capa it was all about getting a history defining photo. The Hungary born photographer became a legend covering 5 major wars and now his legacy is on display in Santa Cruz until 12 March at the Caja Canarias Espacio Cultural in Plaza del Patriotismo.
Wanna see a war? Just switch on your TV, fire up your internet or even tap a few digits on your phone, the immediacy and sheer volume of coverage of conflicts around the world can sometimes desensitise us to the full horror. Robert Capa’s 98 stark black and white images still have the power to shock, startle and surprise, I could see I wasn’t the only one touched as I surveyed a roll call of modern history framed and back lit on the 2 floors.
Capa’s big break came in 1932 when he was the last choice to try to breach blanket security in Copenhagen to see recently exiled Russian leader Leon Trotsky make a speech. Showing ingenuity and daring he sneaked into the stadium as a workman with his trusty Leica camera hidden in his pocket and got a scoop.
The Spanish Civil War saw Capa in Madrid and Barcelona and even as a keen professional trying to make a name his compassion shone through. “The women stay behind but the death, the ingenious death from the skies finds them out,” he lamented in his reports. Rather than focus on the bodies, and he saw many, Capa tried to show the survivors and the hope that they represented.
The Second World War was a busy time for Capa from the London blitz to dangling from a parachute under fire as he dropped into Berlin with the American forces. Always in the thick of it Capa was at the weeks siege to take Sicily, and at the liberation of Paris after striding through the waves to land at Normandy. Descending from a Jewish family he couldn’t face the concentration camps as they were liberated but recorded the memorial service at Auschwitz in 1948.
Although war coverage earned Capa his acclaim, he mingled with the stars and was able to number them among his friends. Photos of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Gary Cooper during a break from filming For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Pablo Picasso on a family beach holiday in France are all included in the Tenerife retrospective.
Robert Capa died in Japan in 1954 from a blast covering the Indochina front, he was reported to have died with his camera in his hand. Widely recognised as the master of war photography Capra could also speak 7 languages and founded Magnum, the worlds first freelance photo agency. His talent and dedication are still recognised with a string of awards presented in his name to those he inspires but his photos are the true legacy. A thick comments book at the exit of the exhibition is already almost full with praise, if you get a chance treat yourself to a walk through history, sometimes pictures do say more than words.
Robert Capra Retrospective
Espacio Cultural Caja Canarias
Plaza del Patriotismo, Santa Cruz
20 January to 12 March 2011
Monday to Thursday 11 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm
Friday 11 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm
Saturday 11 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm
Entrance Caja Canarias clients Free, Non Residents 5 euros, Residents 2 euros.