Capa in Color @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A total of 146 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls (some with blue stripes near the ceiling) in a series of connected spaces on the main floor of the museum. Aside from a few prints displayed in glass cases, all of the prints are modern inkjet prints in varying sizes, made from negatives taken between 1941 and 1954. The exhibit also includes 14 glass cases with assorted magazine spreads/covers, letters, and other ephemera, a selection of enlarged magazine spread reproductions displayed directly on the walls, and a table with copies of the catalog and computer screens. The exhibit was curated by Cynthia Young. A catalog of the exhibit was recently published by Delmonico/Prestel (here). (Installation shots below. ©International Center of Photography, 2014. Photographs by John Berens.)

The show is divided into separate subject matter sections, each with a title and short wall text. For each section below, the number of images on view, their dates, and the contents of related glass cases are detailed:

Entry/Introduction

  • 13 inkjet prints, 1941, 1942
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1941, 1942

World War II

  • 19 inkjet prints, 1942, 1943
  • 3 cases: 5 magazines, 1 list of captions, 3 transparencies in light box, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1952
  • 1 large spread on wall

USA

  • 7 inkjet prints, 1941, 1949
  • 1 case: 2 magazines, 1 letter, 1941, 1950

Picasso

  • 2 inkjet prints, 1948

Hungary

  • 5 inkjet prints, 1948

Morocco

  • 3 inkjet prints, 1949
  • 1 case: 3 magazines, 1 letter, 1 telegram, 1948, 1949

Israel

  • 7 inkjet prints, 1948
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1949, 1950, 1952

Norway

  • 6 inkjet prints, 1951

USSR

  • 9 inkjet prints, 1947
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1 book, 1 letter, 1947, 1948
  • 1 large spread on wall

Skiing

  • 15 inkjet prints, 1949-1954
  • 1 case: 3 magazines, 1 list of captions, 1 letter, 1950, 1951
  • 1 case: 2 magazines, 4 gelatin silver prints, 1 chromogenic print, 1 report, 1946-1952
  • 1 large spread on wall

Deauville & Biarritz

  • 9 inkjet prints, 1951
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1 letter, 1951-1953
  • 1 large spread on wall

Rome

  • 6 inkjet prints, 1951

Generation X

  • 6 inkjet prints, 1951, 1952

On the Set

  • 15 inkjet prints, 1949-1954
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1 letter, 1950-1953
  • 1 large spread on wall

Paris

  • 12 inkjet prints, 1948-1952
  • 1 case: 4 magazines, 1953

London & Japan

  • 3 inkjet prints, 1953-1954

Indochina

  • 9 inkjet prints, 1954
  • 1 case: 5 magazines 1954, 1961

Comments/Context: For those photographers whose long careers intersected with the development and introduction of color photography, the exploration of the new medium opened up visual opportunities and challenges that were markedly different from the well understood realm of black and white. And while we may not immediately think of them as “color” photographers, Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Helen Levitt, Walker Evans and other recognized masters of the medium made color work later in their artistic lives that saw them testing the limits of both the new technologies and their own picture making.

The rediscovery of Robert Capa’s color work from the 1940s and 1950s is yet another one of the twists and turns in the history of photography that keeps us from ever feeling like the past is truly ”finished”. While Capa’s place in the history of photojournalism is now well-cemented, here we have a body of recently uncovered work that extends our understanding of his approach and shows him enthusiastically capitalizing on the new power of color to enhance his storytelling capabilities.

While we often think of color photography somehow beginning in the 1970s, Capa was experimenting with Kodachrome as early as 1938, and began shooting color on assignment (toting two cameras, one with black and white film, the other with color) in the early 1940s. Some of the early pictures in this show find him applying color to World War II subjects, like British soldiers lounging in brown wool, French camel corps riding across the desert against a deep blue sky, and Allied bombers decorated with brash cockpit paint (the “Bad Penny”). His eye for composition seems well attuned to incorporating color; photographs with sleeping soldiers on a dock matched by the angles of the wooden deck slats or the shadows of leafy trees dappling a captured tank show his understanding of the need to rebalance with color in mind.

On assignments in subsequent years, Capa used color to capture Ernest Hemingway taking a swig from a hip bottle, Pablo Picasso on the beach in the south of France, and stars like Ingrid Bergman, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, and Ava Gardner on various movie sets. His travels took him far and wide across the globe, and there are color gems (many shown in vintage magazine spreads) from nearly every locale: spectators perch in a tree in Morocco, a wooly pig stands in front of an ornate palace in Hungary, and motorcycles and ducks intermingle in Indochina.

While we might not think of Capa as a glamour photographer exactly, his color work shows a surprisingly consistent eye for fashionable beauty. A skier sunbathes with the Matterhorn reflected in her sunglasses, a woman in a red bikini poses amid beach cabanas in Biarritz, and a model with red lipstick and a red dress stands on a balcony looking out over the city of Rome, all with splashes of bright color that punctuate the compositions. Other images seem more like Capa in black and white, but with hints of color to enrich the narrative. Crowds of sail boats cluster the harbor of the Lofoten Islands in Norway, children swim along the banks of the Kura River in Georgia, and a bombed “Fixed Price” shop is seen through the framed rubble of Jerusalem.

While these color discoveries won’t likely change our overall opinion of Robert Capa, there are many more unexpected treasures and delights here than we might have normally expected. Capa in color is infused with bursts of life that feel fresh and vital, even sixty some years later. He was absolutely right (when it wasn’t at all obvious) that color had an important place in photojournalism, and these early pictures are proof that he was smartly adapting his photographic approach to the fundamental changes in publishing that were to come later.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices. In this special case, the works have no history of being shown or sold previously, so there are no relevant secondary market details to match up. That said, Capa’s black and white photographs (both vintage and later prints) are regularly available at auction, with recent prices ranging between roughly $2000 and $22000, with most under $5000.

Read more about: Robert Capa, International Center of Photography (ICP), Prestel Publishing

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