Waiting for Robert Capa
by Susana Fortes, translated by Adriana V. Lopez.
“Robert Capa” is the name and persona invented by Gerda Taro to successfully market photographs taken by herself and Endre Friedmann in Paris in 1935.
Gerda was born Gerta Pohorylle in Stuttgart, a Jewish citizen who fled the Nazis to Paris where she met Hungarian Endre Friedmann, also Jewish. He was taking photographs and developing them in the bathroom of his tiny flat with red cellophane wrapped around the light, as he had been shown by another emerging artist, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Gerta changed her name to “Gerda” because it sounded less Jewish, Endre became Robert Capa, Gerda’s creation of the successful American photographer who was rich, talented, and a womaniser. Gerda established herself as Capa’s agent, managing to get commissions for newspaper stories and advertisements.
Robert Capa was sent to Spain to cover the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. While he was away, Gerda developed her own distinct style of photography, but sold her pictures as Capa’s work without ever getting acknowledgement for them.
Prior to conjuring Robert Capa from thin air, Gerta had been sharing an attic in the Latin Quarter with her friend, Ruth Cerf. Multilingual Gerta had easily been able to pick up poorly-paid work typing up scientific journals, but felt the need to do something more satisfying. Returning to her flat one evening, she found that the door had been forced, and stepping inside, that their living space and possessions had been trashed. Captain Flint, their pet parrot, was floating in a pot of boiling water, his neck broken. Racist slogans had been painted on the walls.
Shocked and frightened, Gerta briefly gave way to tears, but then, realising that she was reacting as her tormentors wanted her to respond, she took the Leica camera that she had slung over her shoulder on her way home from work, and started photographing. She had found her profession: she would become an important witness to the cowardice and brutality of such thuggish behaviour.
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