Robert Capa [PWS]

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Children playing in the snow, Hankou, China [1938]

It has been some time without an update in the series, so without further ado, here I present you one of my favorite photos from Robert Capa. If you wonder what PWS is, click here.

Those who expected a vintage Capa must be sorely disappointed. Making a name for himself as a war photographer, his most recognizable photos all circle around war and combat, depicting it in a gut-wrenching way. Think about the falling soldier (one of the most disputed pictures of history), or the stunning and rare photos from D-Day (with him being the only photographer landing with the US soldiers that day). Look, even the famous Hemingway photos ooze the atmosphere of war (well, that’s mostly due to the writer’s passion for hunting but anyway). Why choose a peacetime photo then?

At first, there is nothing special about it. Capa took this photo while covering the Sino Japanese war for Life magazine (see the cover here). His rolls from his journey do not exclusively focus on war but also on bits of everyday life. Compare other photos he had  taken in China and Japan:

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The kid in ragged clothes, probably asking for money (or food – we never know) symbolizes the poverty that strikes people during war. And here is the following picture:

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In case you aren’t begging for money you will probably be enlisted and die a premature death. So what does this tell us about the picture chosen earlier? I’ve first seen it in a Capa exhibit in Budapest. At first glance it’s exposition doesn’t feel right, it’s left side is slightly burned and the yellowish tint takes away the potential that a group of children playing in the snow could have.

But look at it again. This photo shows how everything should normally be. Surrounded by images of war (and eventually, working throughout decades of armed conflicts) Capa shows us what we should really care about. Have doubts? As I leaned closer to the image, I spotted this little fellow:

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The resolution is not good enough, but you have an idea now. Look around him, everyone playing in the snow, chasing one another, throwing snowballs, laughing at each other. This little guy though, all he does is plainly smiling at the skies and the snowfall, arms wide open. This is what freedom looks like – this gesture is a microcosm of why we should always value peace over armed conflicts.

I could make up random theories about how Capa tried to show a humane side of war or how he tried to communicate the true values of humanity amidst the turmoil he had to photograph as a professional. I won’t do it though, as the tackiness of contrasting peace and war has already resulted in kitschy milestones in photography. Instead, when you look at Capa again, try not to see the war photographer but the guy with a true gift for capturing human emotions on camera.

I’ve already included a couple of links but if you want more Capa, visit Magnum Photos (which, by the way, was co-founded by him). If you are Hungarian (which I happened to be) or you are spending a few days in Budapest, check out the Capa Center personally.

Follow the blog for updates from my own rolls and also the next PWS episode on the mighty Ansel Adams himself!

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