CAPA’S COAT OF ARMS: As a boots-on-the-ground photographer and photojournalist, Robert Capa covered five wars in his 41-year life. In the late Forties, the Hungarian-born lensman dabbled in fashion, perhaps as a way to recalibrate after the grisly combat scenes he had captured on film. Visitors to the “Capa in Color” exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York will find his shots of the French actress and model Capucine on view.
One item that could not be tracked down was the made-for-TV footage that Capa shot of the spring 1947 Paris fashion shows. Capa, who later went on to cofound Magnum Photos, had started a company called World Video with John Steinbeck and Henry White with the intention of developing TV-friendly films, according to Cynthia Young, curator of the ICP’s Capa Collection. But their efforts turned out to be a one-and-done operation. “As far as we know, that was the first and only show they did. The whole thing absolutely collapsed,” said Young, adding that the fashion scene was not for Capa. “Although he was very social, he liked to go where he liked to go and to shoot what he liked to shoot.”
The photographer’s career advice to other lensmen was, “Like people and let them know it,” according to an essay written by his late brother Cornell, the ICP’s founding director.
The world of style was something that Capa learned about as a child. His parents had their own tailoring business — though Capa’s mother was said to be the one who actually sewed and ran the business, while his father was more inclined to be found playing cards and talking with friends. After he picked up a camera professionally, Capa’s nonfashion photos show that he had a sense for how style and clothing played out on the street and how people presented themselves, Young said.
In his autobiography, Capa mentioned buying a British army raincoat at Burberry right before the invasion of Normandy. While Capa was photographed in late May 1944 wearing a Burberry-like raincoat, that autobiographical reference has not been proven. “That was written in 1946 as a potential film script and there are many details and facts that are incorrect. He collapsed stories and exaggerated events in the name of a good story, so it’s hard to take at face value,” Young said. “Apparently Hemingway’s account of D-Day for Collier’s on July 22, 1944, ‘Voyage to Victory’ mentioned that he was wearing one. There is a lot of myth making between them, so I cannot verify exactly what was bought when and under whose encouragement.”
“Capa in Color” runs through May 4.