Fast-paced biography of the daredevil war photographer who died in combat at age 40.
Kershaw (Jack London, 1998) relies heavily on Robert Capa’s 1947 memoir Slightly Out of Focus and the Richard Whelan’s 1985 biography, as well as other readily available sources. But he also conducted interviews with those who knew Capa, killed so young while photographing the French war in Vietnam during 1954. Born Andre Friedmann in 1913, part of a Hungarian Jewish family in modest circumstances, he left as a political refugee while still a teenager. He made it as far as Berlin, where he found a job as a darkroom assistant. Picking up a camera, the youngster became entranced with photography and quickly showed a talent for shooting original pictures. He broke through with stunning images of political rallies, then wound up with shooting assignments throughout Europe. He changed his name to Robert Capa because he thought it sounded punchy, memorable, and American. Faithfully following chronology, Kershaw relates how Capa achieved international fame during the Spanish Civil War with “The Falling Soldier,” judiciously laying out the contradictory evidence as to whether the picture was authentic or staged. The author never loses sight of Capa's professional life, notable not only for the quality of the photographs but also the fearlessness he exhibited on battlefields around the world. Just as doggedly, Kershaw devotes substantial space to Capa’s high-profile womanizing (especially with the married Ingrid Bergman), gambling addiction, collaborations on word/picture books, and friendships with famous writers (especially John Steinbeck and Irwin Shaw), as well as the wanderlust that kept him from ever settling down. The analysis of Capa’s motivations is often insightful and rarely overbearing.
A worthy introduction to an adventurous life.