Class 10 - Spring 10
Jeff Curto gives some highly inaccurate information in regards to Robert Capa, D-Day and his famous motto
- Curto fails to properly explain that Capa came in with the first assault wave on Omaha Beach. If you saw 'Saving Private Ryan', then you can imagine what went on that morning on the beach. The reality of that event was far worse than depicted in the movie. US forces alone suffered 3000 dead an 1500 wounded within a few short hours of hitting the beach. Please keep in mind that Mr. Capa went voluntarily on this mission, because among other reasons, he believed that if he was going to photograph soldiers risking their life, he had to share that same risk with them. Otherwise he could not live with himself and do his job.
The images are shaky because:
- Capa and the troops were dodging a hailstorm of German machine gun fire. No time to break out the tripod and take a calm shot.
- Capa was scared beyond anything he had previously experienced and he freely admits this in his book "Slightly out of Focus"
- He was shooting with 100asa film in the early gray of an overcast morning, which did not allow for the use of high shutter speeds to freeze the action.
(Capa carried two Zeiss Contax rangefinder cameras with 50mm lenses. He made approximately 100 - 110 exposures.)
The film was NOT processed on a landing craft or support ship and it was NOT damaged by using the wrong developer. This is also not the reason why the grain is so pronounced in these shots.
This is what happened. It is documented in several books and I heard it from John G. Morris himself at a presentation.
Capa barely made it back alive from the beach to a support ship. There he helped unload the wounded, took some more pictures and eventually collapsed from physical and mental exhaustion. He awoke a short time later and the unprocessed film was sent back across the English Channel to the LIFE magazine office in London. Capa included a note to John G. Morris (Photo editor, LIFE) telling him that 'all the action was on the 35mm rolls'. He had taken some shots on 120 roll film, but these were made on the support ship, not the beach or landing craft.
All pictures had to be cleared by a government censor, before they could be shipped to the USA and LIFE magazine headquarters for publication. Prints and negatives were transported via airplane to the United States, from England.
The film was properly processed at the LIFE magazine lab, but time was running out. In order to clear the censor and reach the airplane before take off, the heat in the drying cabinet was increased. This resulted in the emulsion melting off the film base. Of the roughly 106 shots, only 11 shots survived.
John G. Morris rushed prints of these 11 images to the censor, where they were approved and loaded on an airplane to New York, headed for LIFE magazine.
It should be noted that when Capa found out about this, he took it surprisingly well. In fact he told Morris that if the lab assistant was fired as a result of the incident, that he would quit LIFE.
Capa's famous slogan: "If your pictures aren't good enough, then you're not close enough"
Jeff Curto interprets this as Capa being a chest beating, macho guy, which couldn't be further from the truth. Capa was incredibly brave, but beneath his jovial facade he was a sensitive and troubled man.
Capa meant two things by that line. The obvious one being that you need to be physically close to your subject. You need to breath the same air and take the same risks as your subject. But he also meant that you need to be emotionally close to your subject. You need to be compassionate or passionate, because you understand their emotional state.
Remember kids, just because it's on the internets, does it mean that it's true, although quite frankly I don't understand how Jeff Curto is qualified to teach a class, if he can't get the basic facts about one of the most famous figures in photography straight.