The Real Hotel dei Poveri of Palermo will be hosting the “Robert Capa Retrospective” until September 9th, a photographic exhibition dedicated to the famous war reporter.
Co-founder of the Magnum Photos agency, which started in 1947 thanks to an idea that he shared with William and Rita Vandivert, Maria Eisner and other renowned photographers and reporters of the time, today Magnum is still one of the most important photography agencies in the world, with offices in Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1913, Endre Ern? Friedmann – in art Robert Capa – grew close the communist ideology at a young age, and consequently he had to first leave Hungary, governed by the extreme right, and then later Germany, dominated by Nazism, to finally end up in France where he would come into contact with influential journalists and intellectuals.
The 107 photos displayed at the Real Hotel dei Poveri in Palermo, the 2018 Capital of Culture, retrace the personal and collective history of five wars that Capa’s lenses have immortalized. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was the time period in which he took one of the most iconic and talked about photographs of history, which over the years has become a manifesto against the horrors of all wars: the death of the loyalist soldier, Cordoba 1936. A dramatic and extraordinary shot captures an instant in which a machine-gun bullet hits a soldier of the Republican army, killing him. For years there has been a heated discussion about the authenticity of this photograph, opposing beliefs of those who supported the authenticity and those who think it was staged have discussed this for years without reaching a solution. Only thanks to the discovery in 2013 of an interview given by Robert Capa to a radio station, in addition to clearly clarifying the issue revealed an anecdote that adds further suggestion to this famous photograph. “I was stuck in a trench in Andalusia with 20 other ill-equipped but very determined Republican soldiers,” says Capa, “Their mission was to assault a fascist machine-gun nest, but every time one of them tried to get out of the trenches, they were mowed down. I remember one died every minute. The only chance to conquer that position was to exploit the reloading phase of the weapon, so every time the enemy machine-guns replaced the ammunition clip of their German-made Mauser Maschinengewe 42, loyalist soldiers came out of the trench and rushed into a desperate race in the open field jumping over the corpses of their comrades and towards the death that punctually arrived with a rain of 7.92 caliber bullets. When I realized that another assault would start, I held the camera on my head, pointing it on the battlefield. At the first shots, when the bullets started whistling I started taking pictures without looking. A few weeks later I developed the film and sent them along with many others, without really dwelling on the photos. Months later, when I returned to France, I discovered that I had become famous for a photo I did not even know I had taken.”
Fearless to the point of being foolish, as a freelance photographer, Capa and his Leica camera documented the Sino-Japanese war, the landing in Normandy, the liberation of Italy from the Nazi-Fascists and the reconquest of Paris, but also the Arab-Israeli war and the first Indochina war. Among the 107 photos organized in 12 sections: Copenhagen 1932, France 1936-1939, Spain 1936-1939, China 1938, Great Britain and North Africa 1941 – 1943, Italy 1943-1944, France 1944, Germany 1945, Eastern Europe 1947, Israel 1948-1950, and Indochina 1954. There is also a special section dedicated to contemporary portraiture with famous subjects that were part of his group of friends, including Truman Capote, John Huston, Gary Cooper, Ernest Hemingway, Ingrid Bergman, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and John Steinbeck.
Of the Robert Capa’s time in Sicily, some photographic documents of extraordinary intensity remain. A particular photo taken on August 6th, 1943 after the Battle of Troina and later published in Life Magazine, depicts a shepherd as he indicates the direction for Sperlinga to an American soldier. Capa had arrived in Agrigento to photograph the Valle Dei Templi [The Valley of Temples] and ran across a young director and screenwriter of plays, with whom he was witness, again by chance, to an air duel between an American and a German fighter. Only after the war did Andrea Camilleri, today a successful Italian writer, discover that the young photographer with whom he had spent a morning conversing under the Temple of Concord, was actually a celebrity.
The rashness and fearlessness of Robert Capa, and his desire to tell the war from the point of view of those who suffer the violence, would eventually lead him to his death, stepping on a hidden mine on the road to Hanoi during the First Indochina War.
Real Albergo dei Poveri, Palermo. Until September 9th, 2018