By Prerna SM Jain
It isn’t easy to photograph wars and conflict areas. Running with your camera, jostling through throngs, taking the risk of getting shot or blown up, just for that one photograph is a feat! It is something that very few people are capable of doing. This article celebrates some of the most prominent photojournalists in history who have braved dangers and taken immense risks: Robert Capa and Steve McCurry.
Robert Capa (1913 – 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist. Capa fled political repression in Hungary when he was a teenager and moved to Berlin. He witnessed the rise of Hitler, which led him to move to Paris, where he changed his name (from Endre Friedmann), and became a photojournalist. He subsequently covered five wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. Capa’s photos are published in major magazines and newspapers.
During his career, he risked his life numerous times; most dramatically as the only civilian photographer landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. In 1947, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris. The organization was the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers. Hungary has issued a stamp and a gold coin in his honor. He died at the young age of 40 when he stepped on a landmine whilst covering the first Indochina war.
Anne Makepeace made a very moving documentary in his honor, named Robert Capa: In Love and War (2003)
I interviewed Ms. Makepeace and here is what she had to say-
What is the legacy of Mr. Capa and how have you attempted to capture it in your documentary?
Capa brought the humanity of those suffering in war into the visual conversation about war. You can see his influence in all photos and documentaries about conflict now.
Which is your favorite Capa picture?
Many! I have a beautiful framed photo that Cornell Capa gave me when we finished the film. It was taken in Nanking when the Japanese were bombing the city. Civilians in Nanking are looking up at the sky from the windows and smiling because the Chinese planes were winning for the moment, at chasing the Japanese planes from the sky. Knowing that the moment was short lived and that the Japanese would devastate the city makes the photo deeply moving to me.
If you had to summarize Capa’s life and work in a nutshell, what would be the one word that you wouldlike to encapsulate those thoughts in?
You have many feathers in you cap, in terms of the reception you got with this and other documentaries, do you feel your work could reach out to your target audience?
Yes, they all have, through many different streams. All of my docs have been broadcast on major series on PBS – POV, Independent Lens, American Masters – and those broadcasts reached the largest audience for those films. Bullfrog Films has been my educational distributor for many of my films and they do a great job reaching schools, colleges etc. For my last three films, I have gotten deeply involved in outreach and impact.
Steve McCurry (1950- present) is an American photographer who has worked in photojournalism and editorials. He is best known for his 1983 photograph “Afghan Girl”, which originally appeared in National Geographic magazine. McCurry is a member of Magnum Photos. McCurry is the recipient of numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers Association; the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal; and two first-place prizes in the World Press Photo contest (1985 and 1992).
He founded “Imagine Asia “and travelled frequently to India and Afghanistan to photograph these regions. There were occasions when bombs landed a few hundred feet away from McCurry and yet he continued to stay in the region and work.
Recently he had a fantastic exhibition organized by Cavalier Gallery in New York, I spoke with the director of the gallery, Mr. Ron Cavalier, this is what he had to say-
What is the story behind The Afghan girl?
The Afghan girl was originally photographed in 1983, it is always considered to be the top 5 most recognizable photographs taken. Steve went in disguise over mountains on mules as it is difficult to attain a visa for Afghanistan. National Geographic organized an expedition and Steve went back to find her in 2000. What is interesting is that there was a line of women claiming to be her, but he recognized her the moment she came in, her name is Sharbat Gula. Taj and train is another iconic work, it is a photograph of a train going by the Taj Mahal. He is an incredible and fearless man. He is also a very generous man; he has a foundation called Imagine Asia where he helps educate women in Afghanistan.
What is the price for the prints of the Afghan girl?
Unfortunately, there are none that are limited edition that are on the market right now. The last I remember, sold for, between 150 and 175000, you can buy the open edition which are serialized and signed by Steve, for, between 15-18000, and these help fund the Imagine Asia. We offer them over here as well.
Do you feel that with newer digital technology, the interaction between the viewer and the photograph, has been transformed or compromised?
I think that regardless of where technology goes, there will always be a market for fine art prints.
Steve has published many books, which were wildly successful, do you feel that that has affected his clientele?
It is a huge marketing tool. In fact, the new book that has just been released,” Afghanistan”, has been published by Taschen. I have been working with Steve as his dealer going back at least ten years. I actually met him in 2005, I called him up, I told him that I was interested in his work and we had his exhibition, it was hugely successful. We regularly work with him. In fact, now we had three shows showcasing his work.
Do you feel that photographs are rising as a strong form of art in the industry now?
Definitely, you can acquire master photographers work in under 10,000 dollars, you cannot buy a great painter or sculptor of all time in under 10,000 dollars. But, you can get a really important photograph in this price, it has opened the door to a huge selection of audience.
What makes Cavalier gallery unique?
Our client service, we take care of our clients, we are discreet and very transparent with our dealings, in the case of photography, we update our clients with the values, for insurance purposes, specially with Steve’s limited editions, we have a program for this. We are unique and we are very lucky to have three locations.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]