Thursday, 14 November 2013

Death in the Making - Photographs of War by Robert Capa - Atlas Gallery June 2013

What can I say? I was so lucky to be invited along by a friend to see this exhibition. As I said in an earlier exhibition review it isn't often you get the chance to see first hand images created and printed by icons of photography.To mark what would have been his100th birthday London’s ATLAS Gallery curated a diverse exhibition to celebrate his life and work. Not only were numerous rare prints on show but you could also have sight of his Leica camera. Robert Capa was co-founder of Magnum Photos, of which ATLAS Gallery is the official UK gallerist. Owner Ben Burdett said: “It is indeed a rare honour to host such an exhibition. Capa’s unique mixture of energy, devil-may-care bravery, humanitarian concern and enormous charisma has always been a massive inspiration to me.”

I went to see the eyewitness - Hungarian Photography exhibition and it was super to be able to see more of his work on display here. I had forgotten he was born was born Andrei Friedmann!

In 1954 Capa answered Life’s call for a photographer for the Indochina front. Having sworn he would never report from another theatre of war he was eventually persuaded to accompany a French regiment into action. On May 25, 1954, he was killed by a land-mine while covering their advance in the Red River Delta in Vietnam. The rest is history... More information and pictures of the gallery space can be found on Atlas' Facebook page here:

Most people are aware of Capa due to the 11 frenetic, splashy and blurred  D-Day landing shots he took, those and the infamous Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936, which is accused not only of being staged but also of being taken by another photographer; Gerda Taro - companion and professional partner of Capa. Indeed these photographs are on display and if you had deep pockets you could have bought one, varying in price from as low as £1500 for one printed in 2007 through to those priced at £11000.00, for example Mothers of Naples 1943 bearing the artists credit stamp, LIFE photo stamp and annotations on verso. Others were marked P.O.A so I dreaded to think what they were asking for those. Some were signed by Cornell Capa.

There was a mix of war imagery, political rhetoric -Trotsky Speaking in Copenhagen, 1932 - and those affected by the events happening around them - Tired Little Girl Amidst Refugees, 1936. Not all show despair as the laughing Two Republican Volunteers Resting, Barcelona, 1936 will testify.

With Remembrance Day just gone and next year being the 100th anniversary of WWI it is honestly, for the majority of us, really difficult to truly appreciate the horrors of war, or to have lived at a time when Western political leaders were so terrifyingly commanding. Capa’s photographs seem to succinctly capture what happened at the time, record what both soldiers and civilians went through and have subsequently become important historical and sociological documents, every human emotion seems to have been preserved for posterity within his work.

Also part of the exhibition were a number of images by Russian war photographer Dmitri Baltermants, who was operating on the Russian front at the same time as Capa was reporting from World War II.

Having never heard of him before I did a little research. Baltermants was born in Warsaw, Poland. His father served in the Imperial Russian Army and was apparently killed in WWI. Originally a maths teacher he became a photojournalist in 1939 at some point becoming an official Kremlin photographer. During the Second World War he covered the battle of Stalingrad, and the battles of the Red Army in Russia and Ukraine when he was twice wounded. Working for the Kremlin undoubtedly meant many of his images were censored but luckily they became public much later on during the 1960's.

Dimitri Baltermants Grief 1942 
This is one of his more famous images, called "Grief", depicting a Nazi massacre of Jews. It shows the grief of village women as they search for the bodies of their loved ones. The sky was apparently burnt in during processing to add more drama. More info can be found on the website below but you need to hit translate!

Some of his images resemble closely those of Capa, but they would do given the subject matter, technology available and the conditions they were shooting in.

Dimitri Baltermants Attack 1941

Once more blurred, grainy and full of action, he captures the moment perfectly.

Dimitri Baltermants Crossing Oder River 1945
Dimitri Baltermants Playing Tchaikovsky 1945
Maybe it is only me that hasn't heard of him but the more I look at his work the more it draws me in, he too had a knack for telling a narrative, capturing raw emotion and energy. If it hadn't been for the Russian propaganda black out and the death of Capa maybe his name would also trip off the tongue when discussing great war photographers?

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