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Robert Capa / The Gambler – the many sides of a genius

Photo : Huffingtonpost
Robert Capa / The Gambler – the many sides of a genius

There are multiple interpretations for Robert Capa”s famous phrase: “If your pictures aren”t good enough, you weren’t close enough”. It would be quite trivial to declare that the proverbial closeness refers to physical distance, but Robert Capa – born as Endre Friedmann – was never a trivial guy. This quote could refer to the mental and physical distance between the photographer and his subjects, too. Capa was very good at cutting this distance as short as possible, because he has always been a gambler willing to take risks throughout his adventurous life. The exhibition at Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum (Hungarian National Museum) puts the spotlight on four aspects of his personality.

Each aspect has its own label: the curators used French card suits to suggest Capa’s passion for gambling. Clubs stand for the Emigrant, diamonds symbolize the Photographer, spades indicate the Gambler, and hearts are for the Hero. The first room boasts photos depicting the ruins of Budapest after World War II, bittersweet moments from the Spanish Civil War, and the hopeful or devastated looks on the Israelian immigrants’ faces.

The second room proves that Capa was not joking when he was talking about getting as close as possible. The fearless photographer has images about both London and Leipzig after the Blitzkrieg, and he was also present on the shores of Normandy on D-day. Most of the pictures taken during the invasion were developed too quickly and thus were destroyed by an overexcited assistant, Larry Burrows, who later became a war photographer himself. The few remaining ones became blurred; despite the bad quality LIFE Magazine published ten of these photos with the title slightly out of focus. Capa was so upset with the editors’ commentary that he gave the same title to his memoir.

As for the next room indicated with diamonds, it gives home to moments from World War II, pictures of famous politicians, pre-ordered assignments (like the images of Tour de France 1939), and the best photos from the trip around the Soviet Union he took with John Steinbeck in the 1950s.

The spade room offers a glimpse of a very different Robert Capa. A golden child with his gambling addiction is standing in front of us with his charm and his artistic personality. In this section, the lighter side of Capa’s art is showcased: Picasso wearing a Hannibal Lecter-ish mask, the Dutch queen, Julianna, playing with her daughter, soldiers playing chess during the Spanish Civil War, or strikers laughing and playing cards on the top of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Robert Capa takes you behind the scenes, just like he does every time, but these pictures lack the tragic historical background.

The last room discusses the importance, significance and effects of Capa’s work, while his contemporaries also appear on the scene. His most famous lover, Ingrid Bergman, his drinking buddy and admirer, Ernest Hemingway, the last photo from his final and fatal assignment in Indochina, his iconic and controversial masterpiece, The Falling Soldier, his intimate and hopeless series entitled Closer, and the symbolic Talking Ruins. The plethora of documentaries, the interactive gadgets, and the guestbook-typewriter further boost the unmatchable Capa-experience, and guarantee that the picture in your mind about Capa won’t be slightly out of focus.

Robert Capa / The Gambler

18 September 2013 – 12 January 2014
Address: 1088 Budapest, Múzeum körút 14-16.
Tickets: 2600 HUF, discount (e.g. student): 1300 HUF