Friday, March 11, 2005

The Greatest War Photographer: Robert Capa

Sometimes it pays when you succumb to pass time in front of the idiot box. It has been long since I ceased to be fascinated by what I see on TV. Rare do I find something worthy to watch. And that rate times came when I chanced a channel featuring a documentary that, at the beginning, I barely make out what it was all about from the black and white photos and old films of what could be the 30's Europe being shown. The narrator, to add, shifted too much from one personality to the other. Then one statement struck me, a sign of riveting biography about to unfold.

The narrator, quoting what was in the mind of the subject: "I look at the shoes of people. From the shoes they wear, I discover that you can tell whether they are poor or not. And from then on, I always look at people's shoes."

I knew quickly that I have stumbled on a gem in the quagmire of crap cable TV throws relentlessly on TV audience. The statement tells of a young mind with keen eyes in perceiving the world around him; a precocious sensibility that foretells significant participation in the turmoils that would happen during his lifetime.

The young mind belonged to Robert Capa, who would grow up to be the world's greatest war photographer. By the young age of 32, he had made his name a legend already. His works and exploits envied and admired by his peers and contemporaries.

He never avoided the most hostile atmosphere to take pictures of what could be the test of man's spirit to survive, where life and death hangs in the balance, a test of bravery and spirit paid by life with almost certainty. In fact, he embraced it.

Robert Capa captured in his rolls of precious negative films, about 70,000 shots, his coverage of the Spanish War, the Second World War, the landings of the Allied forces on the shores of Normandy -- where he was the lone photographer included in the first wave of attack --, the liberation of Paris, and several wars.

Part of the package of these successful exploits to record in photos an aggravated and hostile and bloody environment of wars, where his life tittered every second on the thin line of being hit by a bullet just like the soldiers he covered, was fame. Robert Capa was a big shot. He hobnobbed with some of the famous and genius minds of his era: Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Pablo Picasso to name a few.

He also never ran out of lovers. His biggest romance was his involvement with one of the beholder of the prettiest face in world, Academy-winning actress Ingrid Bergman. This man was blessed just to be involve with a goddess such as her.

What fascinated me most in the life of this Hungarian-born photographer was his extreme dedication to his craft. And he proved this, tragically, to his own demise.

For him, another coverage of a war is not merely a call of duty. It is, in his words, "pleasure to do the work."

This person did not rest on his past achievements. Would not want to. He could have had chosen to play safe when he had reached a status already revered by his contemporaries. He could have had enjoyed the safety of taking pictures of everyday people, something that he also loved doing. He could have stayed away from the the perils of covering wars.

But this man stuck his neck out, played again with Death, when he accepted another assignment to cover the Vietnam War. There, he took his last click of his shutter. He died when he stepped on a landmine. Death, finally, caught up with him.

The story of the life of Robert Capa, in time of Love and War, enriches a man's spirit. It teaches passion and ethics of doing one's work with the sheer determination to deliver. Even if it meant to pay it with your life. And Robert Capa paid it with his. But what is more dignified life than doing the thing that you love to the end.

I watched the biography for couple of hours, and, indeed, it was a gem.

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