Robert Capa

Capa in Color” has just drawn to the end - the first exhaustive retrospective on the work in colour by Capa that we had already highlighted back in January.
We went to see it first-hand and now we want to share our impressions with you - a curation that is quite uncommon in its genre due to the quality of images, documents and memorabilia that comprise it.
The International Centre of Photography of New York wrapped up on this marvelous exhibition this past Sunday, by revealing to the world the photos in colour by Robert Capa. It’s quite a unique event indeed, considering that no previous Capa retrospectives had included such shots in colour.
Standing before Capa’s photos in colour was a sheer shock, an absolutely positive milestone in our life. Suddenly you get the feeling to be catapulted right into a movie, to be seeing in colour what had been displayed in black & white countless times - aside from the colour pictures featured in fictional movies. Many will feel greatly surprised by the fact that Robert Capa actually shot in colour, so more so considering that post 1941 it wasn’t an occasional decision, but a regular practice of the genius.
That’s why these photos are virtually still unknown, despite the fact that Capa is currently being regarded as the war reporter who documented the most influential events of the second half of the XX century. In colour.Capa’s love for colour springs out in 1938, 2 years upon the birth of Kodachrome - the first photo film in colour. He was in China when he asked his agent to immediately send him “12 Kodachrome films with all the instructions: I’ve got an idea for Life”. Unfortunately, only 4 of those shots have survived, but colour remained one of his constant aspirations.Those days it wasn’t easy to develop in colour, because it would take weeks to retrieve the developed negatives. In fact, Kodak had kept extreme secrecy around their exclusive development formula, which in turn rendered it necessary to send films to their factories and wait even longer to get them back.Although this process didn’t prove ideal for a news reporter, Capa invested great efforts in trying to convince photo editors to buy his photos in colour, in addition to the black & white ones. In the aftermath of the war, papers finally started opening up to the idea of purchasing photos in colour - which lead to an increase in his assignments, too. Ever since that moment and for the rest of his life, Capa would always travel with two cameras.In a world such as photojournalism - then absolutely dominated by the use of black & white photography - Capa was determined to persevere in the use of colour. And despite the obvious diminished level of graveness of the post-war shots in colour if compared to his most famous ones, we can still admire a renewed playful spirit and a more hopeful vision of the future world in his latest work - which was certainly highly appreciated by the magazines of the time.

The exhibition comprised 15 sections, for a total of 137 photos in medium format and 35mm. In addition, it featured some of the shots Capa sent to to his brother and agent - the latter giving us a taste of an extremely ironic character, a work enthusiast and a sincerely generous soul.

Walking through the rooms of the exhibit, one enjoyed the experience of switching from post-WW2 photos to the intimate family portraits of Picasso, from stolen shots on cinema sets to photos of his travelling to the USSR with Steinbeck, to recollect opinions of the common citizens against the Cold War rhetorics. Not to mention the ironic images of the poshest ski-resorts of the time that certainly put a smile on the viewer’s face - and the shots of Paris, where Capa lived between 1933 and 1939.

In the summer of 1951 Capa travelled to Norway for Holiday and he returned there the following year for the Olympics.
In the article attached to the photos, Capa wrote: “For years I have met and photographed monarchs, peasants and commissars, and I’ve come to the conclusion that curiosity, joint with the freedom of travel and the cheap costs to do so, is the closest thing to democracy… Therefore tourism is our democracy, perhaps”.

An unforgettable photographer and an exhibition that will mark a definite turn in the understanding of Capa’s work.

Mariateresa dell’Aquila

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