‘Capa in Color’ unveils bright side of legendary war photographer

Source:AFP Published: 2015-8-6 20:13:01

Legendary photojournalist Robert Capa may be primarily known for his dramatic black-and-white war images, but an exhibition in Budapest is casting light on his lesser-known color peacetime pictures.

For six decades after his death in 1954, Capa's color images remained largely overlooked - until the Capa in Color exhibition was launched in New York last year.

Now in Europe for the first time, the collection reveals an unexpected bright side to the Hungarian-born frontline correspondent.

From the French beaches of Biarritz to movie stars like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the vibrant photos stand in stark contrast to Capa's world-famous shots of the Spanish civil war in the 1930s or the D-Day landings in Normandy a decade later.

They demonstrate that he was ahead of his time and "always tried to find a new way to express himself," said Istvan Viragvolgyi of the Robert Capa Contemporary Photo Center in Budapest.

When US company Kodak released its Kodachrome color film in 1936, editors dismissed the new technology as of inferior aesthetic value, only good for advertising.

But Capa - who co-founded Magnum, the world's first cooperative agency for freelance photographers - recognized color's potential and became an "early adopter," Viragvolgyi told AFP.

Having made his name as a daring war correspondent, Capa - who was born Endre Erno Friedmann - packed rolls of color film in his luggage for a 1938 assignment in China covering the Second Sino-Japanese war.

"He wanted to experiment on location, not in his backyard at home," Viragvolgyi noted.

But Capa's efforts failed to convince editors who continued to pick his black-and-white images.

"They said: 'We don't want the color pictures because they are not high-value enough for our topics," Viragvolgyi explained.

The new film was also expensive, and had to be sent back to Kodak in the US for developing, a process too time-consuming for most newsrooms.

This resistance to color persisted even in Capa's closest circles, with fellow Magnum legend Henri Cartier-Bresson once declaring: "Photography in color? It is something indigestible, the negation of all photography's three-dimensional values."

Undaunted, Capa developed his skills by deliberately using color effects, often adding rich blues as backgrounds.

"He could sense where color might add to a picture," said Viragvolgyi.

A 1943 image on display in Budapest shows the French Camel Corps riding to battle in the Tunisian desert against a vivid blue sky backdrop.

"If this was in black-and-white it would be quite dull," explained Viragvolgyi."

"The color enhances rather than distracts as color can do sometimes - one reason why it was often seen as inferior to black-and-white."

From 1947 onwards, Capa almost always worked with two cameras, one with black-and-white film and one with color.

On display in Budapest until September 20, the show will then head to France.


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