(1913 - 1954)



ROBERT CAPA  é um personagem de quem só se pode gostar.  Já aqui falei dele a propósito da Magnum, mas a publicação de uma biografia dele é uma boa ocasião para prosseguir a divulgação do que foi sem dúvida o maior repórter fotográfico do sec. XX.


Site da Magnum




April 28, 2002

Review: Journalism: Blood and Champagne by Alex Kershaw

BLOOD AND CHAMPAGNE: The Life and Times of Robert Capa by Alex Kershaw (Macmillan £20 pp298)

In the aftermath of D-Day, the war photographer Robert Capa had been missing from the front line for 48 hours. His press colleagues, who assumed he was dead, were holding a wake in a barn in Bayeux, huddled around a bottle of Calvados, when Capa nonchalantly strolled in. Where had he been? On D-Day itself he had landed on the heavily defended Omaha beach. To abate the terror that he felt as he witnessed the slaughter, he dashed around taking pictures for 90 minutes until he ran out of film, then climbed aboard a landing craft and returned across the Channel. As soon as he had dispatched his rolls of film to the office of Life magazine and changed into some dry clothes, he made for the Normandy beachhead once again.

Capa was not addicted to danger, says one colleague, but he tolerated it. He was prepared to take risks not because it was romantic but because it was useful: it meant better action pictures. Ambition, integrity and courage were intertwined in Capa, as Alex Kershaw persuades in this elegant biography.

Under heavy fire during the Spanish civil war, he lay on the ground alongside the correspondent Vincent Sheean. “This is a bad day for photographers,” said Sheean. “This is the only kind of day that is good for photographers,” was Capa’s adamant reply. But he refused a hazardous assignment with the French Resistance because he knew it would yield a couple of pictures at best, not a four-page spread.

Born a Hungarian Jew in 1913, André Friedmann took the name of Robert Capa while living in Paris, though it started as a joke. “Robert Capa” was supposed to be a wealthy American photographer, while Friedmann and his girlfriend, Gerda Taro, were merely his assistants. That way, Taro could squeeze higher fees out of the magazines. The ruse was uncovered, but Friedmann kept the name and proceeded to invent an enigmatic persona to go with it.

It was this mystery figure who became an overnight celebrity around the world with his photograph of a falling Republican soldier in Spain. Capa had no idea when he took it that this photograph would become the iconic image of the Spanish civil war. At the time, it was the most violent photo ever published and Kershaw examines the controversy about its genesis — was it staged, as some believe? — with admirable open-mindedness. Capa’s political views were non-ideological and instinctive. He hated war and violence, but he was not impartial, regarding photojournalism as a weapon against totalitarianism.

Capa was, according to one friend, “a made-up person, mostly by himself”. He spoke seven languages, though none of them well, so that friends dubbed his heavily accented remarks “Capanese”. Forever homeless, he was at home only in hotels. Peter Viertel called him an “incurable bohemian”, while Martha Gellhorn said that “he always had money to travel, never to settle”. Although he spent much of his career in slit trenches, dugouts and foxholes, he indulged a dandyish streak, wearing a camel polo coat in the Spanish civil war, ordering a correspondent’s uniform from a London tailor, and purchasing a new Burberry overcoat and a silver flask for D-Day.

He was a hard-drinking, poker-playing adventurer who lived in the moment, a resourceful companion who had a natural rapport with strangers and was always able to lay his hands on provisions. On the eve of D-Day he held a party in London at which the black-market booze flowed freely and Ernest Hemingway’s brother, Leicester, who was present, described him as “a master at organising, scrounging, and liberating”. Out in the field, he was able to get round officialdom “through guile, cognac and charm”. His relations with women were uncomplicated. After the death of his great love and fellow war photographer, Taro, in Spain, Kershaw explains, Capa became “afraid of attachment, permanently broken-hearted”. Gellhorn’s fictional version of Capa, in her novella Till Death Do Us Part, had a penchant for tarts “because they were as unattached as he was”. He entered into a marriage of convenience with a young American girl in 1940, obtaining visa status in return for a year’s dance lessons, and his girlfriend throughout most of the second world war noted that, while fearless in war, he was terrified of falling in love.

He appealed to all sorts of women, from waitresses and chambermaids to film stars such as Ingrid Bergman, Hedy Lamarr and Vivien Leigh, and the society courtesan Pamela Churchill Harriman ( * ), who said he had “champagne tastes — he bought his shirts and ties at Sulka — but a beer budget”. “All women adored Capa,” says one friend, the former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. “They mothered him. Then he fed their brains out. His laisser passer was that he was this little lost child.”

It was Capa’s idea, after the war, to create a co-operative agency for photojournalists that would retain their copyrights and negatives. Christened Magnum when a champagne cork popped at its launch party, it survived under Capa’s direction, although he was always dipping into its funds to repay his gambling debts. As his successor in running the agency put it, Magnum was “not a business . . . It was a story, a romance”. Nonetheless, it continues to flourish.

In his last years, Capa’s aura was invaded by melancholy. The novelist Irwin Shaw called him “splendid and doomed”. His end was as legendary as his life. In 1954, aged forty and a veteran of five wars, he stepped on a landmine and became the first American correspondent to be killed in Indochina. More importantly, he had been the first person to make photojournalism “glamorous and sexy”, and Alex Kershaw has produced a spellbinding portrait of his gypsy life.

Available at the Sunday Times Books Direct price of £16 plus £1.95 p&p on 0870 165 8585


Robert Capa first met the already married Ingrid Bergman in Paris in June 1945. The situation there, and later in Berlin, was fluid enough for the affair to pass almost unnoticed. But back in Hollywood the couple had to be much more cautious: when Capa turned up on the film set of Notorious, for instance, Alfred Hitchcock, to avoid press interest, had to pretend to introduce them. Unsurprisingly, Capa hated Hollywood and, though the affair lasted for two years, could never settle there, or commit himself to the clearly infatuated Bergman.

( * ) Enquanto não dedico uma página a esta senhora, que faleceu em 5-2-1997, quando era Embaixadora dos Estados Unidos da América em Paris, aqui fica a indicação de alguns sites sobre ela:


Biografia em livro


Entrevista à PBS  


The Scotsman

Obituário - CNN



He shot with a camera
(Filed: 05/05/2002)

Martin Gayford reviews Blood and Champagne by Alex Kershaw.

IN conversation with the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson last year, I casually asked him a rather banal question - how long he had been living in his current flat? He told me, and then, switching from the mundane to the profound, added the following rider: "It's intensity that counts, not years, months, hours and minutes." This maxim could well serve as a summary of the life of Cartier-Bresson's old friend and colleague, Robert Capa.

Capa, who died at the age of 40 in 1954 while covering the French defeat in Vietnam, was perhaps the greatest of all war photographers - he was certainly the first to transform that role into something both glamorous and heroic. Intensity - the ability to live absolutely in the instant - was at the core of Capa's art as it is of Cartier-Bresson's. Photography, for both of them, was a matter of discerning a telling moment in the kaleidoscopic flux of the world around them, and clicking the shutter.

But while Cartier-Bresson's subject-matter has been for the most part pacific - rural France, Mediterranean and Northern Europe, the Far East - Capa's was about danger: combat in the front line. In fact, as one realises while reading this action-packed account of his life, it is surprising that Capa survived as long as he did. He covered five wars in all, spending a good deal of his professional life dodging bullets and sheltering from exploding shells.

If your photographs aren't good enough, he once said to another photographer, it's because you didn't get close enough. And Capa himself couldn't have got closer. Famously, he was with the first wave of allied troops on D Day, and continued to click away on Omaha beach while most of the men he had landed with fell around him. (Almost all of these photographs were subsequently ruined in a dark-room accident by Life magazine, which then tried to lie about what had happened.)

Capa was evidently, as many who knew him testify, extremely brave - all the more so since he was often quite frightened (he parachuted into the Battle of the Bulge carrying a spare set of underwear, in the correct expectation that he would soil the pair he was wearing). Capa's photography itself closely corresponds to his friend Ernest Hemingway's definition of courage: grace under pressure. The grace in this case manifesting itself as an ability to function under conditions of maximum tension and horror.

The photographs themselves - straight-forward in angle and composition - were a sort of testimony to what it was like to be there under those terrible circumstances. Nothing it seems could be more rawly honest. So it is a paradox of Capa's life that his most celebrated shot - the "Falling Soldier", apparently caught at the moment of death in the Spanish Civil War - was probably staged. And that he was a bit of a fake himself.

Or at least, Capa was a self-invented man. By birth a Jewish Hungarian named André Friedmann, he took up photography in Berlin in the early 1930s, because "it was the closest thing to journalism for someone who found himself without a language". (For the rest of his life, Capa continued to speak seven languages badly, and frequently mixed together, a private dialect known to his friends as Capanese.)

Robert Capa, the character he came to inhabit, was supposedly a famous American photographer, but was in fact dreamed up by Friedmann and his then girlfriend as a way of extorting more respect and higher fees from the Parisian press. The "Falling Soldier", on the evidence presented here, was very probably a live Republican fighter falling over on Capa's instructions during a lull at the front.

Capa was, it seems, an overwhelmingly charming chancer. Handsome, debonair, witty, genuinely brave, utterly unreliable, he was irresistible to the opposite sex - Ingrid Bergman being the most famous among the innumerable beautiful woman with whom he had affairs. When not on assignment he spent his time on these multiple dalliances, on eating in the best restaurants in Paris - his residence of choice - and on gambling (his life could be seen as a series of gambler's throws). Consequently, he was obliged to raid the funds of Magnum - the photographic agency that he set up with Cartier-Bresson and others - in a way that a more sanctimonious age might call embezzlement. Capa died internationally famous and owning no more than "a few well-cut suits".

This new biography has many of the ingredients of an adventure story, with the advantage that the qualities that made the man - daring, the ability to live in the moment - also made him a great photographer. Its main, and considerable, disadvantage is that though it contains photographs of Capa, it has none by him at all.

   Martin Gayford is the editor, with Karen Wright, of 'The Penguin Book of Art Writing'.


Striking poses
(Filed: 12/05/2002)

Justine Picardie reviews Blood and Champagne by Alex Kershaw.

THE romantic view of Robert Capa - and this is a view very often expressed - declares him to be the greatest war photographer who ever lived; the man who captured the 20th century's most terrible events; a true artist who revealed suffering through his lens, unlike those lightweight snappers we fete today, with their pointless pictures of shallow celebrity. All these things are probably true but, as is made clear by Alex Kershaw's remarkably fine biography, Robert Capa was also more complicated than that.

A friend of Capa's described him as "a made-up person, mostly by himself". The invention started very early in his career. He was born Andre Friedmann in 1913, the child of Hungarian Jews struggling to survive in Budapest, but he was transformed into Robert Capa in Paris at the age of 23.

Capa was supposed to be a rich, mysterious American photographer who employed Andre and his girlfriend, Gerda Taro, as insignificant assistants; they'd make more money than they could under their own names, they figured, by persuading magazines to buy what they sold as "Capa" pictures at higher rates. It didn't take long for the make-believe to be discovered, but Andre kept the name (possibly inspired by the Hollywood director, Frank Capra), and set off with Gerda for the Spanish Civil War, where they planned to fight against fascist totalitarianism, armed only with their cameras.

Thus it was Robert Capa - glamorous, charismatic, handsome Capa - who took the most famous photograph of the war: "The Falling Soldier", which apparently depicted a Republican militiaman just after he'd been shot to death. The suggestion that the picture had, in fact, been staged (as set up as any conventional portrait of a Tinseltown icon) was to dog Capa throughout his career; or was it, as Kershaw asks, "no more than what it is titled - a picture of a soldier falling over"?

Whatever, Robert Capa was set on his path as a famous photojournalist: hailed as the hero who landed alongside the Allied Forces on D-Day, sending back pictures from the front line of the Normandy beaches in 1944. A few months later, he beat Ernest Hemingway to the liberation of Paris (Hemingway forgave him sufficiently to join him for dinner at the Lancaster Hotel; later, they met up for drinks with Picasso and Henri Cartier-Bresson).

It was in Paris the following year that Capa - by now almost as famous for his debonair success with women as for his photographs - embarked upon a romance with Ingrid Bergman. She was married; he had lost Gerda, the love of his life, when she was killed in Spain. For all that, Bergman persuaded Capa that he should follow her back to Los Angeles after the war. But it wasn't long before he was bored by Hollywood and its make-believe landscapes.

His friend, Martha Gellhorn, wrote: "He always had money to travel, never money to settle"; and while there were plenty of women to divert him, briefly - Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Pamela Churchill, and countless prostitutes ("as unattached as he was", observed Gellhorn astutely) - none of them was ever able to persuade him to stay in one place.

He made a post-war trip with John Steinbeck (a promising yet ultimately unsatisfactory collaboration) to report on the Soviet Union; and also set up a co-operative agency for photojournalists, one that would allow them to retain their copyright and negatives. Christened Magnum, after a Champagne cork popped at the launch party, and still operating successfully today, it was both a diversion and a useful source of funds for its founder.

There was always another war beckoning, but having been grazed in the groin by a bullet when he was reporting on the violence in Palestine, he decided to return to Paris, where he announced: "I'm not going to carry on recording for posterity these guys who play this little game." Inevitably, he kept travelling, though these days on lucrative assignments for Holiday magazine. By the early Fifties, Capa's oldest friend, who had known him as an idealistic young photographer, described him as "superficial". "I felt like I'd lost him," she said.

By the time he was 40, Capa had a bad back and an uncertain future. He was also broke. So an offer from Life magazine the following year to cover the emerging war in Indo-China for $2,000 a month seemed too tempting to refuse, even though he would be working for a publisher who wanted pictures of French victory rather than the victims of its imperialism.

"This is maybe the last good war," he said the night before he died, drinking cognac in a seedy hotel with other hardbitten correspondents. The next day, Capa lay dead in a Vietnam field, still clutching his camera, his left leg blown to pieces by a landmine, just like all the bodies he had photographed so many times before.

He was hailed as "the first American correspondent killed in Indo-China"; a hero who "fell as a soldier among soldiers". As ever, the truth was not quite as simple as that (and how could it ever be, in the messy real world, instead of a split-second picture?). The Hungarian Jew was buried in a Quaker cemetery, an hour's drive north of New York. An 18-year-old boy working for a local newspaper appeared, uninvited, by the graveside, and began taking photographs of the coffin. One of Robert Capa's friends was about to admonish him, when he stopped. "After all," he said to another friend, "whom are we burying?"


Lothario with a Leica

From bedroom to battlefield, the celebrated war photographer Robert Capa had few equals, as Alex Kershaw tells in Blood and Champagne

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Sunday May 12, 2002
The Observer

Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa
Alex Kershaw
Macmillan £20, pp318

In February 1954, three months before he was killed by a landmine, the war photographer Robert Capa set off on his final assignment in Vietnam. Cutting short a skiing holiday in Klosters, he travelled to the local railway station, where 'he was serenaded by the town band as he climbed aboard the train with a bottle of champagne and someone else's wife'. It was a fitting last journey for a man whose life had largely been spent on the move.

Born in Hungary in 1913, and christened Andre Friedmann, 'with a shock of thick black hair and a surplus little finger on one hand', Capa was soon hustling and bustling his way around Europe. From Budapest, where, his mother recalled fondly, as a child he was in such a hurry that he used to walk into lamp-posts, he moved to Berlin and then to Paris, where he reinvented himself as a photo-journalist so successfully that he was sent to Spain to cover the developing mess of the Civil War.

Wherever he went, Kershaw reports in his chatty and lively new biography, 'history continued to snap at his heels'. And wherever he went, Capa continued to snap away at history, from his grainy images of Trotsky's final speech to his haunting record of the confusion of the D-Day landings.

For Capa, Kershaw concludes, 'It was as if slowing down or settling in one place represented a slow death.' It is one of the many ironies of Capa's life that the photographer who couldn't keep still (it is unclear whether he was running away from something or towards it) became famous for keeping other people still: the living, the dead, and, like Capa's most reproduced image, 'The Falling Soldier', those forever preserved somewhere in between.

Naturally, the association between photography and violence is not limited to war photographers like Capa. But Capa seems to have been unusual, even among war photographers, in having what amounted to a personal, as well as a professional, interest in danger, a gambler's addiction to risk.

This could be both startling and comic. In Hollywood, he rarely drove while sober and never learned to apply the handbrake when parking on a hill. In Tunisia, he once hopped out of his jeep to urinate next to a sign marked 'Achtung! Minen!' In Moscow, even taking a bath was fraught with peril: 'Capa's ritual soaks ended because the rough, worn tub made his bottom bleed.'

Baths seem to have been central to Capa's daily routine, because every morning it was here that he would lie back and transform himself from Andre Friedmann, the Hungarian hustler, into Robert Capa, described by Picture Post as 'the greatest war photographer in the world'. According to one of his friends, 'It was like Clark Kent turning into Superman.'

He wasn't the only person won over by the charisma of a man who wandered around the world with a Leica dangling from his neck and a cigarette dangling from his lips. Blessed with smouldering eyes and unquestioning self-belief, Capa charmed his way into the hearts and bedrooms of women across the world, including Ingrid Bergman's, who 'drank copiously, told bawdy jokes, and [didn't] take much coaxing into bed'.

Profligate, impulsive and witty, Capa was a one-man party. But as Kershaw points out, he was not always a lovable rogue. Sometimes he was just a rogue: boorish, drunk, a 'legendary scavenger' who stole his friends' books and wives, and an inveterate gambler who would 'drop anything and anyone for a flutter on the horses'. 'Capa' means 'shark' in Hungarian, and some of Capa's business activities, such as dipping into the funds of the picture agency he founded, Magnum, for 'expenses', certainly appear to have been more sharp practice than evidence of his twinkle-eyed charm.

Towards the end of his life, in particular, he was behaving in a way that was as much shifty as restless. Even the relentless joking and joie de vivre had become a bit forced. After witnessing the horrors of five wars, it seems he no longer felt like smiling as much as he needed to in order to live up to his reputation. He had become the man in the ironic mask.

Robert Capa's autobiography was titled Slightly Out of Focus, and Kershaw is true to his subject in recognising Capa's blurry inconsistencies. Packed with good stories, and snappily written, Blood and Champagne is as full of life as the man it celebrates. More's the pity, then, that it is full of photographs of Capa rather than photographs by Capa, because the life he will be best remembered for is not his own, but the one he used his camera to secure for war's scared and scarred victims: still images, but moving pictures.



Blood and Champagne: the life and times of Robert Capa, by Alex Kershaw

Libidinous life in theatre of war that ended on a landmine

By David Vincent

20 May 2002

Robert Capa tried to drown the horrors of photographing war in champagne, as the title of Alex Kershaw's lively biography suggests, usually with famous friends such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Ingrid Bergman. Bergman was the greatest of his libidinous conquests: truly liberal in his tastes, however, he was as likely to wake up beside a chambermaid as a Hollywood dame. With his mop of dark hair and spaniel eyes, speaking a muddy "Capanese", his appetites were insatiable and irresistible, for sex, alcohol or gambling, though he was frequently penniless. "Champagne tastes... but a beer budget," as one acquaintance identified it. Not surprisingly, he always slept soundly, even in the noisiest theatre of war.

Born Andre Friedmann in 1913 to a poor Hungarian Jewish family, he was politically active from an early age. In Paris he met Gerda Taro, the love of his life, from whose early death he arguably never recovered. Capa came into the world in 1936, an imaginary "famous" American photographer to ensure fatter fees while covering the Spanish Civil War. Capa announced his arrival that year with "The Falling Soldier", depicting a militiaman from Alcoy a split-second after being shot. Posed or not (Capa was guilty of "staging" action on at least one occasion), it was the most violent image of war yet published.

That image aside, perhaps Capa's finest moment came on D-Day, when he landed on Omaha Beach with US troops, bravely wading with his Leica through blood-red water. His films, tragically, were irrecoverably spoiled in a laboratory, leading indirectly to the foundation of Magnum, the world's first co-operative photo agency, in April 1947.

Capa went on to photograph the liberation of Paris and the battle of the Bulge, before peace led him to Hollywood, which he loathed. Accused of being a Communist, gambling heavily and sleeping around, he started to show signs of what we now term post-traumatic stress disorder. A "vodka tour" to Stalinist Russia with John Steinbeck was followed by two years reporting the Arab-Israeli conflict.

While he was reporting from Indochina for Life magazine in 1954, "the percentages caught up with him", as Hemingway put it, and he stepped on a landmine. The surprise is less that he died prematurely, than how he survived so long.

Exhaustive acknowledgements suggest the hurdles Kershaw had to negotiate in four years of research for his taut, occasionally truculent, unauthorised narrative. He keeps up a convincing pace with the bravura of Capa's life and achievements, despite not having the rights to any of Capa's photographs (Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection, published by Phaidon, brings together a vast selection). Capa's legacy endures. Earlier this month, the OPC Robert Capa Medal, established in 1955, was awarded to Luc Delahaye for his field work in Afghanistan. Capa, one feels certain, would raise a glass of something bubbly to him.



Capturing a short life lived behind the lens
Reviewed by Steve Weinberg
Sunday, July 20, 2003

Blood and Champagne - The Life and Times of Robert Capa

By Alex Kershaw


Robert Capa changed the face of war photography. But first he changed himself. In his fast-paced biography "Blood and Champagne," British-trained journalist Alex Kershaw, now a Californian, explains the complicated man and his breathtaking pictures.

Born to modest circumstances just before World War I as Andre Friedmann, part of a Hungarian Jewish family, the man to later be known as Robert Capa left his homeland as a political refugee while still a teenager. Making it as far as Berlin, Friedmann by chance found a job as a darkroom assistant.

Picking up a camera, the youngster became entranced with the photography profession and quickly showed a talent for shooting original pictures. He broke through into public consciousness with stunning photographs of political rallies during the rise of the Nazi Party, then started picking up assignments throughout Europe.

Friedmann disliked the sound of his name and his humble Hungarian origins. He chose Robert Capa because it sounded punchy, memorable and American -- at least to him, with little knowledge of the world.

The name stuck, no matter how it sounded to other ears. Soon, with his new name, Capa came to know the world, traveling to Spain to photograph the Spanish Civil War, accompanied by his equally young lover, Gerda Taro. She shot pictures in dangerous situations, too. When she died during the Spanish Civil War, Capa blamed himself, though he was not in any way at fault. He talked of her throughout his life, no matter how many other women he pursued and bedded.

Kershaw discusses the circumstances of Capa's most famous photo, "The Falling Soldier," shot during the Spanish Civil War. Was it authentic? Or staged, as many have charged? Kershaw cannot know for certain, so neither can his readers. My conclusion, after weighing the available evidence, is that the photo is probably authentic.

Faithfully following chronology, Kershaw moves from the Spanish Civil War to the remainder of Capa's truncated life both in the United States, in Europe and on battlefields around the world. Though never losing sight of Capa's photography, Kershaw devotes substantial space to his subject's high-profile womanizing (especially with world-famous married actress Ingrid Bergman), Capa's gambling addiction, friendships with renowned writers with whom Capa collaborated on word-picture books (especially John Steinbeck and Irwin Shaw), plus Capa's wanderlust that kept him from ever settling down.

Psychoanalyzing a subject is treacherous ground for a biographer, especially a subject whom the biographer never met. That treacherous ground does not halt Kershaw from trying. Fortunately, he shows good judgment by keeping the psychoanalytic claims modest, so that readers gain occasional insight instead of feeling beset upon.

Kershaw relies heavily on Capa's 1947 memoir "Slightly Out of Focus" and an authorized biography by Richard Whelan, published in 1985, as well as other readily available secondary sources. But Kershaw did plenty of original research, too, including fresh interviews with those who knew Capa personally and whose memories are not lost to Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

Capa seemed destined to die young and in combat. That is exactly what happened. While photographing the Indochina War being waged by the French military in Vietnam, Capa took a fatal bullet. The year was 1954, long before most Americans had heard of Vietnam. Capa was just 40 years old.

I Leica Danger
by David Thomson

Post date: 08.19.03
Issue date: 08.18.03

Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa 
By Alex Kershaw 
(St. Martin's Press, 298 pp., $25.95) 

Robert Capa's has always been a knockout story, and nearly fifty years after his death it is as poignant as ever, but more pointed. He was only forty years old when he stepped on a mine in what was then Indochina. He had followed the wars of his times in Spain, in China, in Normandy and on the way to Berlin, in Israel, and in Vietnam. Beyond any dispute, he was brave, reckless, and led by an instinct for those split seconds when the dawn was enough to get an exposure and the explosions were spaced so that a photographer might just survive. He was also a man whose charm burned like a cigarette; a steady womanizer, beloved by men of action, soldiers, writers, hotel porters, and riffraff, too.  

You can argue that Capa was a gambler who wanted to lose, but he spread fun, talk, and champagne wherever he went. You can say that he was a natural cameraman, a bravura character, or simply Hungarian, but just to behold the image of his wicked grin is to see the life force daring bad times to get worse. It is a marvel that no movie has splashed his life on the big screen, though Pierce Brosnan (who seems a touch too gentlemanly) is the latest in the long line of actors who have tried. Meanwhile there is a new ninety-minute documentary film, by Anne Makepeace, making the rounds. And, most important of all, we still have wars that gain their sharpest immediacy in one or two photographs--and where some other photographs begin to raise that tricky question, "Well, what is it exactly that we are being asked to see?" 

Alex Kershaw's book is not the first study of Capa. Richard Whelan published an authorized biography in 1985, a longer and more thorough book that detailed nearly every photojournalistic assignment that Capa undertook. But it was not as readable as Kershaw's book, which seizes on the speed and the verve of a great adventure story, and on the chutzpah of a gypsy Jimmy Cagney (as he was in 1933 in Picture Snatcher). Kershaw, a British journalist, is also the author of The Bedford Boys, a story about soldiers who went ashore at Omaha Beach in June 1944. He was not exactly welcomed by Cornell Capa, Robert's younger brother, who guards the extensive Capa estate--film and papers--at the International Center of Photography in New York. This does not seem to have hindered his research, for Kershaw has plenty of details that Whelan missed or ignored. 

What is most interesting, and most distressing, is that neither book was allowed to include Capa's photographs. Yes, those works are published elsewhere, in books that benefit the estate and the Magnum Agency, which Robert Capa established and which Cornell Capa now protects. Still, for the novice--and Kershaw writes very much for the young person who may never have heard of Capa--it will seem mystifying that we get none of Capa's great pictures in books about the man. Even as I read this book, the travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle ran a big Capa picture--one of his Omaha Beach series, taken in the early hours of June 6, 1944--to help promote calmer tourism in Normandy than was available on that day.  

Much as Kershaw stresses the vitality of Robert Capa--the wit, the mischief, and so on--nothing illustrates those things better than the pictures. Nor do I simply mean the great Capa pictures--the D-Day shots, "The Falling Soldier" from Spain in 1936, or even the picture of a Parisian crowd in August 1944 in which a mob of citizens stare at a shaved woman collaborator in a fever of awe, fear, hatred, lust, and gossip. Cornell Capa may safeguard his brother's work, but he does it no service with this policy of restriction and discrimination. What is he afraid of? Who has ever had a bad word, or one that stuck, about the restless, mercurial Capa? 

Robert Capa was born in Budapest on October 22, 1913. He came into the world with an extra little finger on his left hand (that was easily removed), a mop of black gypsy hair (never tamed), and the name André Friedmann. His mother was strong, his father was weak: he was a tailor, more impressed by wearing flashy clothes than by selling them, and a gambler. André grew up a poor student in a very turbulent world-- Hungary lost two-thirds of its land after World War I, and under the new Horthy regime there were attacks on Jews and radicals, Friedmann's support groups. Kershaw does not speculate about this, but it is not hard to think that the happy-go-lucky guy might have become even more of a ladies' man and a gambler were it not for that small thing that he found to organize his life--a camera, a girl called Leica. 

When he was eighteen André quit Budapest for Berlin, following his older sister Eva, who had already taken up the art of photography. From the first moment, Capa was a journalist with the camera. He loved its speed, its lightness, the way he might go right up to the jaws of outrage, accident, or miracle and catch it in one-thousandth of a second. Just as you might take years to find a face more inquisitive or watchful than Capa's, so he was plainly born for those decisive moments when the inner life lay naked on human surfaces. He nearly always shot people, the creatures of crisis, participants oblivious of the camera because there was a more pressing threat in their orbit--the animosity of others, bullets, an unfriendly shore. 

As soon as he had acquired skill with the Leica, the world provided him with a brimming subject: the Spanish Civil War. Then, as if wanting to be a Hemingway novel, the war also threw up his perfect love, chum, and colleague in Gerda Pohorylles, a German, a Red, a sexpot, and a camera person. For a season in Spain, they worked together, drank champagne, made love, and nearly caught bullets in their teeth. In any movie, this passage could be the height of old-fashioned romantic cinema-- or appalling junk. But they really lived like characters, and to prove it they took on new names--international or American, tough, terse, trademark names. They became Gerda Taro and Robert Capa. "Capa" is the Hungarian word for shark, apparently, and Capa also had the movie director Frank Capra in mind. 

For a few months, they were married by their job, each of them getting some credit for the other's pictures. Then one day in 1937, clinging to the side of a car on the front lines, Taro was struck by some wandering tank (on the Republican side). There are always more idiot drivers than heroes. Her insides were torn out and she died within hours. Capa blamed himself. He said that he had urged her into the business of snapping lethal action, and then he was away in Paris on the day she was killed. He said he would give the whole thing up. And he began to drink in a way that never stopped. He did not give up photography, of course. He just kept going until fate found his bit of bad luck. But apparently he never took another woman seriously, though he did take them. 


Taro's death became a great tragedy for leftist Europe, because she and Capa had become so famous. Their celebrity was due to the classic "Falling Soldier" picture, taken in September 1936. This is a picture of a militiaman falling backward on rough ground, as if just shot. His head is twisted; his rifle is leaving his grasp; his knees have buckled. The picture was published first in the French magazine Vu on September 23, 1936, and then in many other places, including Life, on July 12, 1937, where the caption read, "Robert Capa's camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head."  

Though the original negative was lost in the 1930s, this photograph is one of the images that came to stand for the tragic reality of war in the twentieth century. Though it served the Republican side, the soldier could belong to any cause. You can argue that the picture has the rough authenticity of something "snapped"; and you can say that it is also blessed by a superb, "natural" composition with the upright figure offset by the long horizontals of land and clouds in the sky. But how "natural" is composition in a practice that is meant to capture the moment? 

Is the "meaning" of this picture anti-Franco, and then anti-war? Or is it just intensely for the moment, the onethousandth of a second? It helped to raise money for the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, and then it came to represent some philosophical point of view about war. Here is the tricky thing about some photographs: the longer the instant lasts, the more grand and abstract it becomes. But still it is only a picture. And if you know the speeds at which bullets and shutters move, you know this: that a man may need more than luck to get the instant in which a person is unexpectedly shot. 

In 1936, the general public was far less accustomed to such grim sights. During World War I there had been a ban on such photography in the media. I suppose it was reckoned in bad taste, too intrusive--and to this day we are spared (except on the Internet, of course) the few seconds in which Daniel Pearl's throat was cut. It seems that we are not ready for that. Not yet. But it is fairly clear that in the recent excursion in Iraq, during the rescue of Jessica Lynch, a good deal of that bit of "desperate" action was staged for television coverage. Which does not mean, of course, that Private Lynch was not rescued; and neither does Capa's picture image mean that a lone militiaman was not picked off a hillside in September 1936. Dare I say that in the picture the man falls back in a very plausible, very eloquent, very beautiful way? The picture has a "rightness" such as might move people and raise money. The body is not visibly damaged; we see no puff of blood, no tear in the white shirt. The slaughter is not nearly as drastic as that of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at the end of Bonnie and Clyde in their sexy slo-mo death from a thousand bullets.  

What I am suggesting is not just that Capa's great shot is suspect, but also that by now, nearly seventy years after he took it, most photographs are vulnerable. This thought might have taken the great smile off Capa's face. The debate over "The Falling Soldier" has gone on for years, and there is no reason for it to be settled now. Kershaw (like Whelan before him) examines the case carefully, and fairly, and he is plainly struck by doubt. The most upsetting thing, you see, is that beneath the great picture Vu published another Capa shot of another falling soldier, in very much the same place at the same moment. (We know this from the clouds.) But it is a different soldier. It feels a little like a different take. And for years no one could put a name to the fallen militiaman. 

In his authorized biography, Whelan spelled out the uncertainty and concluded: "The fact is that we shall probably never know exactly what happened on that hillside." It is proper to add that Whelan was already the co-editor (with Cornell Capa) of Robert Capa: Photographs. But the implication of control or direction stung--and many people moved by the picture are taken aback at any hint of contrivance, just as many people were ready to be devastated by the news, a few years ago, that Robert Doisneau's "great" photograph "The Kiss," taken in Paris in 1950, had employed models, staging, and even some rehearsal--as well as blurred motion, some objects out of focus, and the very appealing poetic notion that you may look up at any moment and see a couple kissing on the street. Yes, it looks like Paris in 1950, and it feels like impulse; but it might just as well be La France in fond eternity, a postage stamp, or an inducement to tourism. 

Of course, Doisneau's picture itself never trembled or altered in the controversy. Only our susceptibilities wavered. What do we want from photography? And Capa supporters have rallied to his aid. In 1996, in the London Observer, Rita Grosvenor and Arnold Kemp wrote a piece that "discovered" that the militiaman in the picture was named Federico Borrell Garcia. Then in 2002, in Aperture, Whelan came back to the case in the spirit of a detective. He used Grosvenor's work and enlisted a homicide detective from the Memphis Police Department to opine that, yes, the man in the picture was really dead or dying and not an actor. This report wants us to share Whelan's estimate that "there can be no further doubt." I am not so sure. 

Capa has never been charged with any crime, and he is in no need of vindication. Suppose he simply behaved like a professional photographer--which is very different from the weird Isherwoodian assertion that a man can be a camera. No, man has a harder role to play: he can be creative, he can have ideas, he can decide where to put the camera. Try as he may, he cannot actually be mechanical. Nothing is as suggestive of helpless intent as the proof (in Vu in 1936) that, within the space of a few minutes, Capa took two pictures from the same angle and with the same composition. The very same once-only mise-en-scène. For every ideal held about Capa as the endlessly motile photojournalist, darting here and there looking for the fleeting truth of life, he seems that day to have been possessed by an idea, a vision, an angle, a composition, a meaning. 

Even Whelan's "clearance" in the case accepts the idea that a group of militiamen "decided to play about a bit for the benefit of Capa's camera." He uses the word "pretending" and then supposes that a soldier who believed he was safe was suddenly cut down by a machine-gunner. This is how Whelan sustains the idea of "chance"--without ever allowing that design would make the picture more likely. But he still says nothing about the man in the second picture, and he fails to grasp its implications as to purpose. Nor does he explain why the sweeping machine gun did not hit Capa at the same time as it hit his nearby subject. Above all, Whelan ignores this question: there are two pictures, two deaths (or, at least, two woundings). If they occurred at virtually the same place and time, which came first--and how brave, or unlikely, was the second soldier once the enemy machine gun had declared itself? 

 So what are the conclusions? It is possible that, having seen many people shot down and killed, Capa felt an intense urge to "get" such a moment. But then he realized the astonishing luck that this required--unless, truly, he was a camera that could take a picture as he saw a thing. So did Capa decide to re-stage what was not an uncommon event? If so, was that cheating? Or are we just very sentimental about the kind of "truth" that photography allegedly leads to? 

A painter at the front lines could easily and legitimately paint a picture of a falling soldier. No one would object, if the painting was as strong as Capa's photograph. Nobody would cry deceit. Painting, after all, implies measured decisions regarding subject, size, composition, coloring, and so on. Why must photography be different? Is it so reliant on absolute fidelity to the moment? Or must we admit that, for a moment at least, Capa the journalist had become Capa the painter or Capa the novelist? If so, does that cheat the nature of photography or penetrate deeper than the happy faith in spontaneity? 

On the other hand, consider a recent issue of the National Enquirer, the one that mentions a secret videotape of Bill Clinton in some furtive sex act, a tape that Hillary Clinton is supposed to be already very anxious to prevent seeing the light. The paper has a simulated frame from the video (they hardly grasp that video has no frames) with Bill's head and a bare, fleshy back. It could be mine or yours; or it could be Bill at the beach. It is referred to as "a composite," which I guess is the Enquirer's shy way of saying that's what the video might look like. 

Or consider the footage of Lynch's rescue--or even those pictures of supposed weapons of mass destruction that this country offered to the United Nations so recently. Times change, but they only seem to equip the deviousness of men with more skills. In 1962, the American government showed pictures of Soviet missiles being deployed in Cuba--or so the captions said. They could have been pictures of building blocks, but in 1962, I think, everyone trusted them. By 2003, trust has run dry. We always wonder if we are being conned, and in the years since 1962 or Capa, the range of the Leica or the U2 spy plane has been revolutionized by a thing called Photoshop, which may be more insidious than the weapons Capa photographed. 

In essence, Photoshop or computer-generated imagery at the movies allows you to show as a photograph whatever you like. There are people in both fields sufficiently sophisticated to believe that they can still discern digitally altered images, but those people admit that not everyone has their sophistication. And these arts are still in their infancy. In other words, the single thing that was most special about a photograph for over a hundred years--its life-likeness (as witness our abiding and foolish faith in photo identification)--is gone. 

On that day in 1936, I suspect, without knowing how or why, Robert Capa had taken one of the key steps that carried photography from a recording device to an intellectual or imaginative process. It does not seem to me a case of possible cheating so much as a proper appreciation of the nature of the medium. It remains for us to decide how moving, or important, photography can be if we do not trust its record. 

As the Spanish overture turned into full drama, so Capa became associated with Life magazine. He spent time in London; he knew Hemingway and Irwin Shaw; he had every pretty woman from Pamela Churchill down the line. And he pushed himself into a predictable position of the utmost peril: Omaha Beach on June 6. He was on a landing craft, using condoms to keep his camera and the film dry, creeping up to the shore under the Allied bombardment. 

Capa's landing craft opened about forty minutes after the first attacking wave hit the shore. By his own account, he went into the water with the infantrymen in his craft: there are shots of these bulky figures wading to a shore maybe forty yards away. The German machine-gun fire was often intense and Capa joined with other Americans taking shelter behind some of the concrete obstructions that the Germans had built to slow landing craft. He made it to the shore and then, as he admitted, his nerve cracked. He went back into the water, and found a landing craft where he tried to re-load film in his cameras. But then a German shell hit the boat and Capa was suddenly covered with feathers from the kapok jackets of men blown to bits. He took a few more pictures of the shore, the bodies, and the wreckage floating there, and then he let the landing craft carry him to safety.  

Capa admitted that he was running away. I suppose a soldier doing the same thing might have been rebuked and disciplined. But surely this should not damage the legend of Capa's bravery; indeed, it only enhances real valor to realize that it sits side by side with real terror. And in truth, many of the Omaha Beach pictures are unsteady or a little blurred--as if to show that the photographer is not in cool control. One of the disconcerting things about Saving Private Ryan (the opening of which was inspired by the Capa pictures) is that somehow in that din and in that rain of bullets Steven Spielberg's camera (and his crew) stands steady, stalwart, and dry to photograph the whole fast and bloody thing. 

From the landing craft, Capa got to the Samuel Chase, a transport ship, and by the next morning he was ashore at Weymouth, on England's south coast. From there his rolls of films were couriered to London: those pictures had to reach New York by June 10 if they were to appear in the June 19 issue of Life. But in London the darkroom staff at the magazine bungled the rush job. Of the four rolls of film, three were useless--they were left so long in the drier that the emulsion turned to slime. The entire desperate shoot had provided only nine usable frames. 

But we judge those Omaha pictures on the grounds of mere survival. The D-Day shots are not formally impressive or beautiful. They have many imperfections. And they all depend on the information in the attached caption: approximately, this is what it was like (or this is what a camera recorded) off Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6. The immediacy and the authenticity are everything. It is not that one would want to accuse Capa of cowardice, but if it emerged--I mean beyond a doubt--that those shots had been set up (if, for the sake of conjecture, you knew that Capa had taken them on the "set" of a film like Saving Private Ryan), then their value would be as definitely lost as the dead bodies floating in the sea. 

There are "theres" in history of compelling power or importance, where integrity is everything. The Zapruder film, from Dealey Plaza in Dallas on November 22, 1963, does not need to be "good," but it is helplessly revelatory, and it has been as vital in shaping our cultural self-awareness as if we had twenty-five seconds on film of Shakespeare eating his lunch while writing Hamlet. It is in this context, I think, that one can recognize how far "The Falling Soldier" is a different kind of picture, one that reveals Capa as a partisan reporter more than an objective journalist. In Spain, he was swept along by emotion--being with Gerda, being part of her ideas. He was not a member of the Communist Party, but it is impossible to imagine him working on Franco's side of the lines. So, yes, there is a chance that Capa was photographing a man as he was shot (which means that he had decided to take the picture before the shot was fired). There is also a considerable likelihood that "The Falling Soldier" was made to fulfill an ideal and a purpose. 

Oblique support of such a conclusion comes in the interview that Capa gave to the New York World Telegram in 1937. There Capa was said to have "automatically snapped his camera." Then, for two hours, he lay beside the corpse, until it was dark and safe to crawl away. In that case, when was the picture of the other militiaman, so similar, taken? But at the end of the interview Capa offers this comment, unprompted: "No tricks were necessary to take pictures in Spain. You don't have to pose your camera. The pictures are there, and you just take them. The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda." 

In that last sentence we may find the battleground for every qualm over the contemporary use and abuse of tricked images to affect the way that audiences will think. It is interesting that Capa's mind had already identified the problem--despite his brave assertion of being unspoiled by it--and may even have been haunted by it. Capa was rueful enough to see how war had made him, and to feel cursed because of it. He was also blithely accepting of the way bullets took their fatal paths, just as darkroom idiots could destroy good luck with bad.  

After the war Capa became a kind of celebrity, with Ingrid Bergman on his arm. Unhappily married, this most honest of actresses had a real life crammed with duplicity--Capa was only one of her lovers. But they were a couple, on and off, for a few years, and there is a fabulous picture taken in the ruins of Berlin in August 1945, of Bergman, wearing a head scarf, sitting in half a broken bathtub tossed out on the street. She is radiant with the moment, full of fun and charm amid all the destruction and male attention. Sounds like a Capa moment? Of course, except that Capa himself screwed up this "masterpiece" in the darkroom, and the only picture that survives is by another photographer, Carl Goodwin, who was following along a few steps behind them, photographing what Capa saw. 

Though Capa was not unduly mercenary, still he needed money for champagne, the women's silk underwear that came back after the war, and life in hotels. He was also weary of the restrictions imposed by Life and the other magazines for which he worked. So he hit on the idea of an agency for his own favorite camera people, a kind of United Artists of still pictures. Thus Magnum came into being in 1947--the name was inspired by the champagne, of course--with a group that included Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David Seymour. It was a grand idea (like United Artists), but it carried with it the burden of office administration, which was never the shark's sport. The agency might have the advantage of collecting and caring for the photographers' prints, and organizing their use throughout the world, but Kershaw reckons that Capa sometimes dipped into agency funds to keep his gambling going. He became frustrated. He was by then an alcoholic--in a cheerful way--with equal addictions to sex and danger. 

The postwar world had its dangers still, of course. Capa went to Israel, and a book resulted, done with Irwin Shaw. He toured the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck to collaborate on another book of reportage. But he was bored and he was broke: in Holiday magazine, he found himself giving tips to beginners on how to photograph snow. He was assigned to cover movie sets and fashion shows, and he had affairs with models as well as with Bergman. It may be that Bergman had a notion of divorcing her Swedish husband and marrying Capa. But he laughed at talk of marriage, and soon she was embarked on her scandalous liaison with Roberto Rossellini. 

Alfred Hitchcock noticed the attraction and the tensions when Capa visited Bergman on the set of Notorious, and he used some of that mood in Rear Window, in which an avid action photojournalist (James Stewart) has such an eye for danger that he thinks he has seen a murder across the way in his Manhattan courtyard. He is a stricken witness, for he is laid up with a broken leg (suffered on some foolhardy photo shoot), and with a beautiful fashion-model girlfriend (Grace Kelly) trying to coax him into marriage, much against his "loner" instincts.  

Capa was scared of middle age. He was no longer the kid who could sleep in a ditch without feeling it later. He was tired of being expected to stay up until three every morning playing poker. Irwin Shaw described his gaunt look upon waking and the way he had to prepare himself for those famous bars where the homeless are at home. The debonair grin had become a strain. In the new paranoia, there were passport problems and files that kept account of his Communist associations. He had lived so much longer than Gerda. 

By the time Rear Window opened, Capa was dead. He had gone to South-east Asia, and one day in May 1954, "embedded" with French troops near Thai Binh, he wandered off on his own to get a good angle on a line of soldiers and stepped on a land mine. A leg was blown off and his stomach was holed, but his Nikon camera flew through the air, its last images safe and intact and waiting to be developed.




Dec. 28, 2003
Life as a lens

Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa
By Alex Kershaw.
Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Press.
298 pp. $25.95

The great macho image of the war correspondent/photographer, circa 1936-56: shiftless, well-paid, chain-smoking, hard-drinking womanizer, betting on horses and poker hands, and gambling with death.

Put a Leica camera around his neck and you have Andre Friedman (1913-54), alias Robert Capa, a Hungarian Jew and arguably one of the greatest photographers covering the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Israel's War of Independence, and the conflict in French Indo-China, later known as Vietnam. It was in Indo-China that the jaded Capa's luck ran out. He died there, having stepped on a mine.

Capa the combat photographer was a hit. Capa the man was a handsome, amusing, fun-loving, and magnetic spellbinder, as ladies like Ingrid Bergman found to their cost. And Alex Kershaw has written a spellbinding biography. It isn't the first but it is quite the best, drawn from a bibliography of some 150 books.

One of the early biographies bore an excellent title: The Man Who Invented Himself. But in reality, Capa was invented by the love of his life, a Hungarian Jewish photographer named Gerda Taro, killed in Spain while taking pictures of an air-to-ground strafing. Taro invented Capa's name and his fictional status as a famous American photo-journalist in order to charge real money for his work.

It was after Taro's death that Capa began drinking "seriously." Amazingly enough, he usually didn't look the worse for it.

One of Capa's images from Spain, "The Falling Man" helped catapult him to fame. It supposedly depicted a Spanish soldier hit in mid-stride by a bullet. It wasn't taken during a battle but during a frontline training maneuver, when the man may have just tripped, but Capa later claimed the victim was shot by a sniper. Whatever the case, the image survives as an "icon" of that war.

In the days before the telephoto lens, Capa would say that "if a shot wasn't good enough, you weren't close enough." He got very close. He wasn't fearless either, but by all accounts extraordinarily brave. He was the only photographer to wade ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day, men dying all around him. He lay on his back on the sand shooting several rolls of film and then, admittedly terror-stricken, managed to get back into the landing craft driven by a black sailor. It was the right thing to do: he had to get the negatives processed in London, flown to Scotland and then to New York, in order to make the next edition of Life.

THE FILMS were ruined in London during a hasty drying; only a few images survived. One, blurred and grainy, blown up from part of a 35mm negative by Life picture editors to a full page, showed two Americans neck-deep in the water. The technically poor image and an exciting caption was a scoop.

Before the days of fine-grain film, most enlarged Leica images were anyway grainy; funnily enough, the graininess was quickly seized upon as a benchmark of reality.

Omaha was hell (to get some idea, take a look at the first 10 minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan) but Capa, in between monumental carousings, went on to make a combat jump with the 17th Airborne over Wesel near the Dutch border in March 1945. Such was his fame that before the jump, he organized an airlift of whiskey, courtesy of Lieut. General Lewis Brereton, who later flew in to ask him if he received it. A half hour after the jump, Capa had two rolls of film of dead and dying paratroopers and drank his first whiskey.

During the war, Capa, together with David "Chim" Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson, was a key founder of Magnum, a news photo cooperative that not only raised fees but gave photographers some control over what happened to their work - rights previously entirely in the hands of picture editors. Even today, Magnum captions cannot be changed by editors.

Capa did not photograph the death camps; there were "too many" photographers there. During the war he had lived only for the moment, "thinking only of the next bed, bottle or woman." At war's end in Europe, the great gambler and great performer had lost his stage. But in June 1945 he and Irwin Shaw saw Ingrid Bergman arrive in Paris and invited her to dinner. Married to a dull Swedish dentist, Bergman in Europe became the lover of Larry Adler, but was soon captivated by Capa - a type of man she thought existed only in movies. He followed her to Tinseltown and then to Manhattan. But he was often drunk and depressed. Eventually he broke her heart and the relationship fizzled out.

NOT LONG afterwards Capa made a trip to Soviet Russia with a misguided John Steinbeck; the Russians were keen to exploit the goodwill of the great "proletarian" writer. They had no interest in Capa, and ordered him to leave his cameras on the bus. The trip degenerated into a vodka-laden fiasco.

In May 1948, Capa finally found a story he really wanted to cover: Israel's War of Independence. In Tel Aviv, he found a number of old friends among the foreign correspondents, one of them the London Illustrated's Jack Winocour (who a year later briefly joined The Palestine Post to start the paper's projected overseas edition, but he failed to get it going). Some 20 of Capa's images of fighting in the South were published in the Illustrated. He, Shaw, and Winocour made it into Jerusalem. Capa was later slightly wounded during the attack on the Altalena off the coast of Tel Aviv when a bullet grazed his groin, and before June was out was back in Paris.

Capa did not go to Korea; he had no interest in the conflict or the risk; bankrolled by Magnum, he had girlfriends, booze, and horses to bet on. He was feted during a trip to Japan. But he got a good offer for pictures from Indo-China, to be taken on the way home. He went - and died. He was just 41.

This racy book of Capa's life and times contains many pictures of him and his famous friends, but not a single image taken by him. Author Kershaw notes that Capa's estate (managed by his brother Cornell Capa) refused permission.