Robert Capa photographs on exhibit in London


(Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos)

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” — Robert Capa

One of the most famous war photographs ever made was made by a person who didn’t really exist. And there’s an exhibit celebrating his photography opening soon at Photo London from Sept. 8-12.

I’m half joking when I say that Robert Capa wasn’t a real person. He was real, of course. The London exhibit, along with many volumes written about him and his work, are proof of it. But Capa is not the name he entered the world with.

The man who would come to be known as Robert Capa, and who would eventually be celebrated as one of the greatest war photographers of all time, was actually born Andre Friedmann.

Friedmann was born to Jewish parents in Budapest in 1913. He studied political science in Berlin and fled Germany as the Nazis began to rise to power. He would eventually meet a fellow photographer, Gerda Taro, and together they would come up with the name he would forever be associated with: Robert Capa.

Capa died young, at 40, in 1954. He made his name covering conflict — from the Spanish Civil War to the First Indochina War, where he died after stepping on a land mine.

Capa is probably best-known for two things: a photograph of a loyalist soldier at the moment a bullet struck him during the Spanish Civil War, and for co-founding the world-famous photographers’ cooperative Magnum Photos.

If you think of a person clad in a leather jacket, festooned with cameras and with a cigarette dangling rakishly from their lips when you think of a war photographer — that image was based largely on Capa’s outsize personality.

Of course, the reality behind that image may not be so congruent when you look below the surface. Capa was indeed an incredibly courageous photographer who trotted around the globe dropping into conflict zones. But he was also a human being like the rest of us, and he had his vices.

You can find out about all of that by reading any number of biographies or books about him, like “Slightly Out of Focus.” He had a predilection for gambling and booze, among other things. The name of the cooperative he co-founded, Magnum Photos, took its name from a magnum of champagne.

The exhibition, “Close Enough,” is organized by Messums London in partnership with the Kogan Collection. The exhibition will be in preview at Photo London and then open at Messums’s London gallery before heading to Wiltshire and Yorkshire venues.

Here’s what the exhibition entails, according to a statement from Messums:

The exhibition ‘Close Enough’ will feature a succession of iconic stories made throughout Capa’s career, from the altogether varying contexts in which he found himself. The title of the show references and questions Capa’s iconic photographic mantra. ‘Close Enough’ evokes the scenes he witnessed and the risks taken, the challenges he encountered in photographing tragedy and death while remaining a detached observer, as well as the legacy of this photographic approach today.

The exhibition presents 50 vintage photographs selected from the Kogan Collection, including the second earliest print in existence of The Falling Soldier — now widely recognized as one of the most important war photographs of all time. The central piece in this exhibition is Capa’s original Leica camera which took his earliest photographs. Exhibited for the first time, the camera offers a rare insight into Capa’s image-making process and forthcoming extraordinary photographic journey. Photographs of anonymous soldiers and civilians will sit alongside portraits of luminaries, such as Trotsky and Steinbeck. ‘Close Enough’ highlights the inclusive nature of Capa’s work encompassing as it does the suffering, tenderness, humor — and wonder — of the human condition.

The images in this exhibition come from the Kogan Collection, one of the largest collections of conflict photography in the United Kingdom. Images from the collection have never been shown until now.

Over 350 prints dating from 1895 to 2015 along with hundreds of vintage NASA photographs, photobooks and magazines ranging from Life, Picture Post and TIME make up the collection started by David Kogan, OBE, historian, journalist and former CEO of Magnum Photos.

The exhibition is a rare opportunity for the public to be able to see Capa’s legendary photos in print form. Even if you aren’t familiar with his name, you are most likely familiar with his work.

You can find more information about the work at the Photo London website here, and the Messums website here.

More information about Robert Capa can be found here, and his photograph “The Falling Soldier” here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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