Robert Capa

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Robert Capa

Robert Capa , pseudonym of Endre Ernő Friedmann (in Hungarian: Friedmann Endre Ernő ; Budapest, Hungary, October 22, 1913- Thai Binh, Vietnam, May 25, 1954), was a war graphic correspondent and Hungarian photojournalist of the twentieth century. It was sentimental couple of the photographer Gerda Taro and together they photographed with the pseudonym “Robert Capa” being difficult to know what photos are of each one. It covered different conflicts: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War (in London, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of Normandy on the Omaha beach and the liberation of Paris), the Arab War- Israel of 1948 and the first Indochina War. In Paris in 1947, he founded, along with David “Chim” Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert, the Magnum Photos organization, the first cooperation agency for independent photographers around the world.

Robert_Capa’s Biography

Endre Ernö Friedmann was born in the city of Budapest into a Jewish family that enjoyed a good economic position. His mother was a fashion designer and his father an intellectual thinker with aristocratic influences. In Hungary, it was customary at that time to belong to a circle of an artistic or political nature and Endré entered one of them, in which he received the nickname of “Bandi”. [Quote required]

First years

Condemned in his adolescence to live wandering around the city for the installation of his parents’ workshop at home, after they lost the premises in the wake of the economic depression of 1929. In these wanderings he would meet one of the women that most influenced his life, and it can be said that, if it had not been for her, he would not have become a great photographer. The name of that woman was Eva Besnyo, who from a very young age had a great interest in photography. Eva was one of those people who found it more productive to take photographs than to do her homework. In his youth he already took pictures with his Kodak Brownie camera. She and her special taste for this art motivated Endré’s first contact with photography. He was much sought after by his friends, as he was characterized as a generous and loyal young man. [Quote required]

Already about seventeen years old and hoping to finish his school life, Endré meets one of those people who would shape his life, one of those good friends who set off on their paths, with excellent advice, timely financial support, appropriate connections, artistic suggestions and conceptions about life. This illustrious personage was called Lajos Kassák, who, with socialist tendencies, decided to help any artist with constructivist currents. He made photography known as a social object showing the injustices of the capitalist system and presenting works in his seminars such as those of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine. In 1929 the political situation went from bad to worse with the imposition of a fascist government in Hungary, forcing the young Endré to leave the country along with the large mass of young people who felt pressured by the lack of a democratic government and guarantees economic In his case, he left the country just a year after the establishment of the fascist regime, in 1930 when he was captured and wounded by the police while participating in a protest against the regime, he would leave for Berlin the following day. In this regard he wrote:

In the square of the barracks, the police chief whistled Beethoven’s fifth symphony while hitting boys with very long hair. I was 17 years old and my hair was very, very long. The next morning the commissioner called my mother and told her that if she left Hungary in 24 hours, certain questions would not be asked.

Parisian stage

At 18, he leaves Hungary, then under a fascist government. After passing through Germany, he travels to Paris, where he meets the photographer David Seymour who gets him a job as a photojournalist in the magazine Regards to cover the mobilizations of the Popular Front. In one of his works with the magazine, he managed to mix with some workers who would see a speech by Leon Trotsky in Copenhagen. He was the only photographer of the magazine who had managed to portray the exiled Russian, and the photos, became famous for portraying the intense charisma of Trotsky.

Between 1932 and 1936, trying to escape from Nazism, Endre Friedmann, established in France, meets the German photographer Gerda Taro (born Gerta Pohorylle) who would end up being his sentimental and professional partner. To try to increase the price of the work of the couple often rejected, invent the name of a supposed American photographer Robert Capa, using both indistinctly said pseudonym. This fact forms the basis of the controversy over which of the two actually took some of his most relevant photographs.

Spanish Civil War

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, Capa moved to Spain with his partner Gerda Taro to cover the main events of the Spanish war. Involved in the antifascist struggle and with the cause of the Republic, was present, from that side, in the main battle fronts, from the beginnings in the front of Madrid to the final withdrawal in Catalonia.

Always on the front line, it is world famous his photograph Death of a militiaman, taken in Espejo, on the front of Córdoba, on September 5, 1936.

Reproduced in most books about the Civil War, its authenticity has been questioned by various experts. Although a local historian from Alcoy named the militiaman, Federico Borrell García, an anarchist militiaman, the documentary La sombra del iceberg (2007) denies such attribution to witnesses, forensic doctors and documents from the local archive of Alcoy. It also shows the inconsistency of this thesis and provides new photos of the militiaman sequence that endorse the thesis of the staging, as well as the possibility that the snapshot was not taken by Capa, but by Gerda Taro. In January 2008, according to CNN, was found a lost bag by Capa where there are innumerable negatives of shots made in the Spanish Civil War; a treasure of incalculable historical value. According to an article published on the website of El Periódico, it is clear that said group of photographs were taken 10 kilometers from the front, in the town of Espejo, where Republican troops had their headquarters at that time, according to the newspaper.

World War II

During the Second World War it is present in the main war scenarios. From the Allied landing in Normandy, on June 6, 1944, the famous D-day, his photographs taken are classic, together with the soldiers who disembarked on the beach called Omaha in the terminology of the operation. On the landing he said:

… at 4:00 am we meet on deck. Two thousand men standing in complete silence. Whatever they thought should be some form of prayer (…) we got off the boat and started walking. Then I saw the men fall and I had to push their corpses to continue. The bullets made holes in the water around me and I had to hide behind the first steel obstacle I saw. My frames were completely filled with mortar smoke, burned tanks and sinking boats. Each piece of mortar hit a man’s body. Take photo after photo crazily …

Of the 134 photos I took of the landing, only eleven survived the development. They are known as The Magnificent Eleven. He was the only photographer in the first wave of the landing, which would receive all enemy fire and would have more casualties.

It also reflected in images the liberation of Paris. Huston Hu Riley was the soldier portrayed at the time, and on the occasion of his work during this conflict, he was awarded by General Eisenhower with the Medal of Freedom.


Tombstone dedicated to Robert Capa in Bayeux (Normandy, France).

When his old dream of being an “unemployed photographer of the war” finally came true (not because he had renounced the trade, but because of the absence of new conflicts), he led a pleasant cosmopolitan life in Paris for several years. In 1947 he created, along with photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rodger, Vandiver and David Seymour, the agency Magnum Photos, where Capa did a great photographic work, not only in war scenarios but also in the artistic world, in which he had great friendships, which included director John Huston, actor Gene Kelly, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Also in the year 1947 he traveled to the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck to illustrate Russian Journal. The following year he visited Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia with the journalist Theodore H. White, and in 1949 he took photographs of Report on Israel, whose text was signed by Irwin Shaw. In 1954, Mainichi Press invited him to travel to Japan to participate in the launch of a new illustrated magazine, but the trip was finally suspended: at the end of April. Howard Sochurek, the Life photographer who had been covering the Indochina war for several months, had to return to the United States and the editor of the magazine convinced Robert Capa to replace him at the front. At dawn on May 25, while accompanying an expedition of the French army along with two more correspondents for a thick and dangerous wooded area under fire in Jeep, Capa decided to get off and advance on foot to photograph the advance. Then the platoon heard an explosion, had inadvertently stepped on a mine that blew his leg and caused a serious wound in his chest. He was taken by ambulance but died on the way to the hospital, being the first American correspondent killed in this war and thus ending a hazardous professional life, guided by a phrase he popularized:

If your photos are not good enough, it’s because you have not come close enough.

Robert Capa left a legacy of 70 000 negatives: a visual testimony gathered over twenty-two career years (1932-1954).

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