D-DAY, ROBERT CAPA AND EVERYONE ELSE
By Bill Dobbins
We’ve just commemorated the 75th anniversary of the invasion of France at Normandy which pretty much spelled the doom of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Anyone wanting to know what the experience of landing on the beach during that invasion should watch the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, which experts say comes as close to reality as any movie has – or probably can without actually blowing people up.
If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough. – Robert Capa
We know a lot about how this action looked because of the combat photographers who were brave enough to go in with the invasion troops, many of whom lost their lives. One of the most famous of these photographers was Hungarian-born Robert Capa, the only civilian photographer landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day – shooting for Life Magazine. Capa was an experienced war photographer whose photos of the Spanish Civil War were considered especially significant.
The war is like an actress who is getting old. It’s less and less photogenic and more and more dangerous. (1944) – Robert Capa
Robert Capa’s adventures involving D-Day didn’t end when he got off the beach. Most of the photos in this post are not by Capa. Here is a description of what happened to his photos, reported by PetaPixel:
Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with the first wave of assault troops at 0630 on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day), on freelance assignment from LIFE magazine. He stayed there for 90 minutes, until he either inexplicably ran out of film or his camera jammed. During that time he made somewhere between 72 and 144 35mm b&w exposures of the Allied invasion of Normandy on Kodak Super-XX film.
Upon landing back in England the next day, he sent all his film via courier to assistant picture editor John Morris at LIFE’s London office, instead of delivering it in person. This shipment included pre-invasion reportage of the troops boarding and crossing the English Channel, the just-mentioned coverage of the battle on Omaha Beach, and images of medics tending to the wounded on the return trip.
When the film finally arrived, around 9 p.m., the head of LIFE’s London darkroom, one “Braddy” Bradshaw, inexplicably assigned the task of developing these crucial four rolls of 35mm Omaha Beach images to one of the least experienced members of his staff, 15-year-old “darkroom lad” Denis Banks. After successfully processing the 35mm films, in his haste to help Morris meet the looming deadline Banks absentmindedly closed the doors of the darkroom’s film-drying cabinet, which inexplicably were “normally kept open.” Inexplicably, nobody noticed that Banks had closed them.
As a result, after “just a few minutes,” that enclosed space with a small electric heating coil on its floor inexplicably became so drastically overheated that it melted the emulsion of Capa’s 35mm negatives. Notified of this by the horrified Banks, Morris rushed to the darkroom, discovering that eleven of Capa’s negatives had survived, which he “saved” or “salvaged,” and which proved just sufficient enough to fulfill this crucial assignment to the satisfaction of LIFE’s New York editors.
That darkroom catastrophe blurred slightly the remaining negatives, “ironically” adding to their expressiveness. Furthermore, as a result of the overheating, the emulsion on those eleven negatives inexplicably slid a few millimeters sideways on their acetate backing, resulting in a visible intrusion of the film’s sprocket holes into the image area.
Photographers who have lost valuable photos or feared to lose them can relate to this story. This is especially true in the digital age when we no longer have negatives and transparencies locked up in a file but where our images exist in electronic form on hard drives, DVDs or other too easily erased or lost media.
Robert Capa himself survived the war and went on to cover other conflicts. In the early 1950s, Capa traveled to Japan for an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos. While there, Life magazine asked him to go on assignment to Southeast Asia, where the French had been fighting for eight years in the First Indochina War. Although a few years earlier he had said he was finished with war, Capa accepted and accompanied a French regiment with two Time-Life journalists, John Mecklin and Jim Lucas in Thái Bình Province. On 25 May 1954, the regiment was passing through a dangerous area under fire when Capa decided to leave his Jeep and go up the road to photograph the advance. Capa was killed when he stepped on a land mine.:155
He was 40 at the time of his death. – Wikipedia
I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life. – Robert Capa
Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited as fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and he has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Taschen)
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