Sunday, June 20

Robert Capa: reviewing a myth



Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


Some analysts believe that photography is the result of a previous staging, thesis also supported by the historian Phillip Knightley in his work The First Casuality and by José Manuel Susperregui in Shadows of photography (University of the Basque Country, 2009). However, a sequence of photographs exhibited in London in 2008 taken on the same day at Cerro Muriano could reaffirm the veracity of Capa’s photo.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


In addition to that of the militiaman, the best-known photographs of Robert Capa were those that this photographer took during the Normandy landing. Eight of these photographs, turned into icons of the victory of the Allies over Hitler’s troops, have been among the most widely disseminated throughout the world, the result of the opportunity of that historical moment that began the end of the Second World War.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


On June 5, 1944, Robert Capa boarded one of the barges heading to the Normandy beaches in England. The next day he disembarked with the soldiers on Omaha Beach and in the 90 minutes he was there he took more than 140 photographs for Life magazine. During the following hours the editors of the publication waited for Robert Capa to give signs of life or send the photographs taken on that stage. They came to give him up for dead when the American army released the news that the body of a photographer had been found floating in the sea off that beach. But two days later, the reels of photographs that Capa had taken during the landing finally reached the magazine. The editor in charge, John G. Morris, commissioned that they be revealed immediately for publication as soon as possible. Then one of the greatest tragedies in the history of photojournalism occurred: of the more than one hundred photographs taken by Capa, only eleven could be saved, almost all in poor condition (in fact only eight were published) because of a failure in the drying process of the photojournalism. Film, at a temperature much higher than that which they should have been subjected to, damaged the negatives. It has never been explained why Morris commissioned the development of these important photographs to an inexperienced 15-year-old apprentice named Denis Banks, although other sources attribute the responsibility to Larry Burrows who also worked in the Life laboratories and who would make a great photojournalist, winner Capa Award winner three times, who died in the Vietnam War. So far the official story.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


Now, AD Coleman, an expert photography journalist who writes among other media for the Village Voice, the New York Times and the New York Observer, after reading an article by photojournalist J. Ross Baughman (the youngest Pulitzer winner of photography, in 1978 , aged 24) in which he raised some doubts about the famous photographs of Robert Capa, began a personal investigation. In the conclusions reached, AD Coleman warns that the temperatures of the negative dryers used in those years never reached such a high degree that it could damage the film, and attributes the deterioration seen in the photos to the fact that the Kodak reels used by Capa did not fit in the dryer and therefore left indentations on the sides. In addition, in Capa’s shipment there were other photographs of maneuvers carried out before the disembarkation and scenes of doctors treating the wounded in English hospitals, which did not suffer any damage.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


But Coleman also assures that Robert Capa was not actually with the stormtroopers on Omaha Beach, where the biggest fighting took place, but on Colleville-sur-Mer, a not so conflictive scenario, where he arrived at the 6.30 in the morning with a group of engineers, who would be the ones seen in the photos, who were in charge of flying the obstacles that prevented unloading the material. Coleman claims Capa returned to England on June 7 aboard the USS Samuel Chase and that same day he sent the photographs from Life’s London correspondent. Morris received them at 9 a.m. on June 8. In a long article (Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day. Exposure Magazine) Coleman interprets the familiar photographs of Capa during the landing to reach these conclusions.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


So Coleman assures that the negatives were never spoiled but that Capa did not actually take many more photographs of the landing than those that were published, either out of fear of enemy fire or because he considered that the maneuvers that were taking place were not interesting. Beach.

This research contrasts with the testimony that Capa himself collects in his autobiography Slightly out of focus (The Factory) where he writes (pp. 170-171): “A German machine gun soon began to riddle the barge. The soldiers dove to the chin. The water at the waist, the assault rifles ready to fire and the obstacles and the smoke from the laya in the background made a perfect scene for the photographer… The bullets opened small holes in the water around me… I finished my photos. The water felt ice cold under my pants. Not very convinced, I tried to get out from behind my hiding place of steel, but in each attempt a blast chased me.

On the other hand, Capa states in these memoirs that he was on the beach of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, not in Colleville-sur-Mer, although both are part of the area known as Omaha, a code name that was given to the The area of ​​Normandy in which the landing took place, a wide band of eight kilometers that occupies several towns from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer, therefore both Coleville-sur-Mer and Saint- Laurent-sur-Mer are part of the same beach.

Seven of the famous “eight photos” of the most critical moments of the landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.


Possibly the true history of these photographs will never be known, both that of the militiaman and those of the landing, turned by history into military icons of democracies against totalitarianisms. But I think that Capa’s value during his career as a photojournalist cannot be questioned. In World War II he was also in Naples and Montecasino and entered the liberated Paris aboard an American tank piloted by Spanish Republicans. He continued with the United States Army to Belgium and in March 1945 he parachuted with American troops over Germany during the Allied advance down the Rhine. The risk led to his death on May 25, 1954 when he stepped on a mine during the Indochina war. His girlfriend, the photographer Gerda Taro, had died during the Battle of Brunete, in the Spanish civil war.


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