Robert Capa


22 January to 18 April 2005

Poster of the exhibition “Robert Capa”

Poster of the exhibition “Robert Capa – Retrospective”

Design: Steenbrink Vormgeving, Berlin

An unusual retrospective devoted to the photographer Robert Capa, the great friend of Henri Cartier-Bresson, will be shown at the Martin-Gropius-Bau from January to April 2005. The concept of the exhibition was developed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. It throws a new light on the photographer, who founded the Magnum photo agency together with David Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson – who was honoured in Berlin with the very last retrospective during his lifetime from May to August 2004.

Robert Capa established his reputation as a war reporter. He was able to give expression to the suffering of the civilian population like no other photographer. The international press named him “most important war reporter” as early as 1938. Capa documented the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation (1938), the Second World War in Europe (1941-1945) including the landing of the Allied forces in Normandy (1944), the first Israeli-Arab war (1948) and finally the war in Indochina (1954), where he was killed by a land mine on May 24, 1954. He was 40 years old when he died.

His war reportages – without a doubt the most important part of his oeuvre, which has moulded our collective memory – have overshadowed other aspects of his work.

For this reason the exhibition will show not only the famous icons of photography, but also a number of relatively unknown works, some of which have never been on public display. In addition to the famous portrait of Leon Trotsky (1936) in Copenhagen, the legendary picture of a fatally shot Spanish freedom fighter or the world famous photos of the landing of the Allies in Normandy on June 6, 1944, there are pictures of pilgrims in Lisieux and of the Tour de France in 1939, for example. Numerous portraits of artists are represented in the exhibition, to which many state and private French collectors have lent their pictures.

300 famous and unknown photographs recall a great legend fifty years after the death of Robert Capa.

On display are for the most part vintage prints. Illustrated magazines from the 1930s and 1940s document the work of the photo reporter who never wanted to be seen as an artist. Not a single exhibition of his works was shown during his lifetime. Robert Capa became known solely through the works he published in the press.

A collection of 96 original prints which the Bibliothèque Nationale bought in 1964 and has continued to expand through its additional purchases forms the nucleus of the exhibition. To these are added vintage prints from other French institutions and private collections. Nearly 500 vintage prints were viewed before the selection was rigorously narrowed down.

Like his friend and colleague Cartier-Bresson, Capa left his mark on the era of great photo journalism that gave expression to a humanistic view of the world in a unique way. Capa’s war photography is complemented in the exhibition by numerous, mostly unpublished reportages. This first extensive retrospective of Robert Capa’s work presents above and beyond the icons the unexpected pictures of a witness to our times and committed journalist.

Organizer: Berliner Festspiele
An exhibition of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Galerie de Photographie.
With generous support from Louis Roederer Champagne and the Magnum photo agency, Paris.
Curator: Laure Beaumont-Mailett, Paris
Venues: Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau