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Capa 105: a restless, adventurous spirit and toughness from Hungary

The Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center celebrates the 105th birthday of its eponymous artist, the world’s best-known press photographer, with a special open-air exhibition during the CAFe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival in the heart of the Pest side, on Erzsébet Square. Presented in a shipping container, the installation evokes the work and person of the Hungarian-born citizen of the world, Robert Capa (Endre Friedmann), with the help  of the photos he made during his 1948 visit to Hungary, as well as with audio recordings, letters, and books. The installation is on view between 5 and 21 October.

But who was Robert Capa fka Endre Friedmann?

He never avoided challenges – he brought his restless, adventurous spirit and toughness from Hungary. Inspired by Lajos Kassák, he became interested in journalism in 1929, one year before his matriculation. After 1930, he was a photographer. He was shortly imprisoned because of his leftist connections and his participation in a leftist demonstration on 1 September 1930. In prison, he learnt the methods of the infamous investigator Péter Hain, who beat him so hard that he lost consciousness. He was released through his parents’ connections and he almost immediately left the country.He hardly had anything else in his luggage when he left his native country in 1931. (According to one of the legends, he had a stick of salami.) His train ticket to Vienna was paid by the Jewish Community of Pest, from there he went on to Prague through Brno and somehow he eventually arrived in Berlin. He had to leave Berlin in 1933, which became more and more dangerous for left-wing Jewish intellectual immigrants. He went to Vienna and from there to Budapest by boat. Back at home, he worked for photographer Ferenc Veres in Budapest, taking photos of Budapest for touristic leaflets and publications.

He moved to Paris in September 1933, still not as Capa, but neither as Bandi Friedmann any more; he tried to sell his photos under his new name André Friedman – with little success. He was starving more often than eating well. The young Hungarian with many names yet being actually an unknown photographer was helped by André Kertész with work, connections, his friendship and – knowing Capa – certainly with some money, too.

His first photo report was published in 1934 in Vu Magazine. He changed his name to Capa around this time almost together with his girlfriend Gerda Pohorylle, whose name became Gerda Taro. Foreign literature wrongly put together the name of Robert Capa from those of Robert Taylor and Frank Capra, but, to our knowledge, he was called Cápa (shark) because of his big mouth and pushy behaviour already at secondary school in Budapest.

He made photo-history with his war reportage on the Spanish Civil War, WWII, China, and Vietnam. He also founded the famous photo agency, Magnum in New York with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, Maria Eisner, William Vandivert and his wife. His stories and, in particular, his slogan – “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – made him a legendary person. But he made a mistake in Thái Bình. He went too close… (Robert Capa, 22 October 1913, Budapest, Hungary – 25 May 1954, Thái Bình, Vietnam)

His brother wrote about him: “He lived a lot and suffered a lot during his short life. He was born poor and died poor. He bequeathed us the chronicle of his unique career along with the visual proof of his conviction: not only can mankind endure a lot but it is able to win every now and then.”

Read more about Robert Capa’s amazing life: https://capacenter.hu/en/orsolya-pentek-robert-capa-1913-1954/

Original text by Károly Kincses via Capa Center, photo Hrotkó Bálint/CAFe Budapest



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