ROBERT CAPA: A Biography by Richard Whelan
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ROBERT CAPA: A Biography

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The life of the man who, in the course of covering five wars, was for nearly two decades the world's most famous war photographer. Almost alone, he practically invented the art of combat photography and set the extremely high standard that others in the field still must meet. Capa's life could not have been more glamorous and exciting if it had been scripted in Hollywood. When he was in his early 20s, he took what is still one of the best known of all war pictures: a Loyalist soldier in Spain at the moment he is hit by an enemy bullet and is falling into death. Capa went on to cover the Japanese invasion of China, WW II, fighting in Israel, and the French war in Indochina. He got his many great pictures because he took incredible risks; he told other photographers that if their war photos were not good enough, it was because they had not been close enough to the fighting. Born in Budapest in 1913 as Endre Friedman, into a Jewish family, at age 17 he was forced to leave his family after he was arrested during a crackdown on liberals by the right-wing government. He never again had a home, but lived mostly in hotel rooms. He owned a wardrobe of good clothes and cameras, but all his life had practically no other material possessions. He was essentially a nomad, obsessed by his art. He was everything a Hollywood producer could ask for, a tough, courageous man in war, but sentimental over its victims, tender with women, hard-living, hard-drinking, charismatic, full of Hungarian charm, lots of fun and nearly always surrounded by friends, no matter where he found himself. Among them: Hemingway, Steinbeck, John Huston, Irwin Shaw, Hedy Lamarr. He was nearly always accompanied by beautiful women. He had an affair with Ingrid Bergman, and his biographer credits Capa with changing the star's life. She wanted to marry him; he refused. Irresponsible with money and time, a gambler who was forever borrowing money (and taking forever to repay it), Capa was a congenital fibber who embroidered and constantly changed the stories of his life and his wartime exploits. He was a charming rogue whom his friends, competitors and business associates found irresistible. Explaining the secret of his success, he would say: ""It isn't enough to have talent. You have to be Hungarian, too."" He was killed by a landmine in 1954, while covering the French in Indochina. A strong biography of a man who led a fascinating and influential life. The reader also learns much about the development of photo journalism from its beginnings in the late 1920's and early '30's.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf