Capa in Color : One Step Closer to Real @ ICP

The archives of Robert Capa, Master Photojournalist are housed in The International Center of Photography, which was started by his brother Cornell Capa. They have just released a set of images from mid-century that will breath a whole new life into the world of photojournalism from that period.

His coverage of World War II across Europe,the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War,the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War brought the world some of the most emotion riddled images of those wars. While a student at Ryerson in Toronto, one of his most famous images,”Falling Soldier” greeted us in the student lounge daily. It was in 1938, he began the use of Kodachrome into his work, often carrying 2 cameras, one for B&W and one for Color.
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Robert Capa, [Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude, Vallauris, France], 1948. © Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.

Even before starting Magnum Photo Agency with cohorts Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymor (Chim), George Rodgers and William Vandivert, he knew that with the rise of the weekly mags, the public wanted more color imagery. It was time for the public to leave the big war behind, and start looking ahead to better times. Color helped in that healing.

This was a new shift in the public’s perception of photography, and even movies. The Wizard of Oz, a combination B&W to color extravaganza was best film for 1939. The exaggerated hues of OZ, spoke of an unreal world only to be seen in dreams.

The addition of color into photojournalism was a horse of a different, well, color. For the first time the reality of war, and the tools, could be seen with that extra layer of black and white imagination stripped away, and the monochromatic uniforms and modes of transport and destruction, were given their own hue. And olive green was the designate.

9. Capa_British soldiers watching a wrestling match on a troop ship from England to N. Africa
Robert Capa, [British soldiers watching a boxing match on a troop ship from England to North Africa], 1943. © Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.

This made things more real. No longer just a newspaper photo, the color of life brought the war home in a very new way. To be sure, this was not the extreme truth, reality, and horror that would come with the war photography of Vietnam. The mag editors of the time gauged their audiences capacity for the real.

15. Capa_A crewman signals another ship of an Allied convoy across the Atlantic from the U.S. to England
Robert Capa, [A crewman signals another ship of an Allied convoy across the Atlantic from the U.S. to England], 1942. © Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.

This new found color, especially the deep,rich tones of Kodachrome, were also of great use in the non-war images of the new celebrity and lifestyle magazines. Robert Capa knew the potential, and promoted it, as another way to keep his photo agency Magnum relevant.
This esteemed agency went on and continues to be not just relevant, but as prestigious as it ever was.

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©Robert Capa, [Capucine, French model and actress, on a balcony, Rome], August 1951. © Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.

How much did this new color in mags like Colliers or Ladies Home Journal affect the fashion industry? Did the initially subdued hues represented in these weeklies, affect the muted look of the 50’s? Once the color door was opened, did the 60’s begin to go to the other extreme, giving those “nice, bright colors” as Paul Simon described them ?

What you will be treated to at this show are over 100 images from Capa’s archive,along with an enormous collection of the original magazine pages that his work appeared in. The printing is modern, but the images speak to a different time. This has been culled from The archive containing roughly 4,200 color transparencies – 35mm Kodachrome, 21⁄4 Ektachrome, and some larger Kodachrome sheet film.

The exhibit present some images never seen before, and for me, asks the continuing questions about the human brains perception of color and black and white. Is it easier to accept an image in B&W since there is a layer of real not present, allowing the viewer to fill in the perceived blanks?

While it’s reported that Capa went back to B&W exclusively from 1944-45, it was only because of the time and expense it took to process, edit, and publish color.

Yes, yes, room for both, but how do you perceive the still images’ storytelling capabilities? How do you tell your stories?

There is a well produced book available in the ICP bookstore, as well as Amazon next month.

1133 Avenue of the Americas @ 43rd ST.
New York,NY
Tuesday–Thursday: 10 am–6 pm
Friday: 10 am–8 pm
Saturday–Sunday: 10 am–6 pm
Closed: Mondays
Closed: New Year’s Day, January 1;
Independence Day, July 4; Thanksgiving Day; Christmas, December 25.

General Admission: $14
Students and Seniors (with valid ID): $10
ICP Members: Free
Children under 12: Free
Voluntary Contribution Fridays 5–8 pm

Free Friday night programs in the Museum are made possible, in part, by public funds from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

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