Robert Capa was one of the world’s most renowned photographers covering 20th century war and politics, and a new exhibition showcases his dazzling work in colour, much of it forgotten.
A Hungarian who studied in Berlin and fled the Nazis in 1933, Capa shot to fame with his coverage of the Spanish civil war, World War II and the Israeli war for independence in 1948.
Most of his iconic war pictures were shot in black-and-white film.
Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine at the end of the French Indochina war in 1954, but between conflicts he travelled around the world taking colour photographs of everyday situations and of his celebrity friends.
The exhibition that opened on Friday at the International Centre of Photography in New York includes pictures of Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Truman Capote, Orson Welles and other stars.
His friends allowed Capa to photograph what would have otherwise been private moments: for example, there is a picture of Pablo Picasso with his family on the beach in the south of France, and another of writer Ernest Hemingway at home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
The exhibition “gives a first look of colour photographs of Robert Capa. Some of the work have never been seen before,” said ICP director Mark Lubell.
The ICP found around 4,200 colour negatives of Capa, curator Cynthia Young told reporters.
“This exhibition is also about how Capa reinvents himself as a photographer during the years when he is not covering war and political conflicts,” she said.
Capa founded the legendary Magnum Photos agency with French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947 and colour photos at the time played a huge part in meeting demand from magazines. Capa first experimented with colour in 1938 while covering the Sino-Japanese war.
But of the 12 Kodachrome rolls he requested, only four prints were published, all related to the battle for control of the Yangtze River.
Starting in 1941 Capa began to take colour photos regularly. From then until his death in 1954 Capa always travelled with two cameras, one with black-and-white film, and the other with colour.
“Black and white was cheaper, but colour was glamorous and they were used pretty regularly on covers,” said Young.
“It was a world that demanded colour. Colour was in the movies, colour was in advertisement,” Young said.
Capa’s war photographs were almost entirely taken in black-and-white because it at the time it took too long to process, censor, edit and publish colour photos. “Colour was not a great medium for spot news,” said Young.
The exhibition closes with heartbreaking photos taken by Capa shortly before he died on May 25, 1954 in Vietnam on the route between Namdinh and Thaibinh, where he stepped on the landmine.
“Capa in Color” will be on display at the ICP until May 4.
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