In his short life Robert Capa photographed five wars, beginning in Spain in 1936, and finishing in 1954 during the French phase of the Indo-China War, when he stepped on a land mine. In his collected work the period becomes one continuing war, shifting from one front to another, the scale of the battle expanding and contracting, but never quite ending.
As a photographer who specialized in war, Capa was kept busy, and did not have much time to investigate other subjects. He understood, however, that war was more than the battles, and some of his most interesting pictures were made on the periphery of the historic events.
The picture reproduced below was made in the town of Chartres at the time of the liberation of France. The woman with the shaved head is being punished for having loved, or having at least given comfort to, a German, an enemy of her fellow Frenchmen.
In recent years it has been suggested that such a spirit of accommodation was less unusual in wartime France than the picture would suggest; perhaps this particular woman or her German lover were unpopular for other reasons, or perhaps the public humiliation of the woman and her child is an exercise designed to demonstrate that still another new order has been ushered in, and that patriotism will once more be enforced.
The horror of the picture resides in the smiles on the faces of the crowd. In a film of the period the director would have kept his mob stern-visaged; in this spirit the punishment would have been acceptable even if cruel. What makes Capa's picture shocking is that the crowd is enjoying itself.
Perhaps the crowd did not realize this. One of the interesting things about photography is the fact that its records of our selves and our works so often do not correspond to our mental images: The photographs make our waistlines look thick, and our postures slovenly, and our houses graceless and ill-proportioned.
Generally we assume that the difference between our expectation and the camera's evidence is the result of some kind of photographic aberration. We call it distortion and preserve our faith in the validity of our mental image. Often we are right to do so, for the camera records many unintelligent, insignificant, and circumstantial kinds of truth. Sometimes, however, we can learn from photographs that things were not as we thought they were.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
This book represents the most definitive selection of Robert Capa's work ever published, a collection of 937 photographs selected by Capa's brother, Cornell Capa, and his biographer, Richard Whelan, who meticulously re-examined all of Robert Capa's contact sheets to compile this master set of images. This book opens with a biographical introduction illustrated with rare photographs of Capa, and closes with a chronology of his life.
Considered by many to be the greatest war photographer, Robert Capa first gained recognition for images he made during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This volume is the first to be devoted entirely to these photographs.
From Sicily to London, Normandy to Algiers, Capa experienced some of the most trying conditions imaginable, yet his compassion and wit shine on every page of this book. Charming and profound, Slightly Out of Focus is a marvelous memoir told in words and pictures by an extraordinary man.
- I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life.