Saturday, June 6, 2015

Photographing the D-Day invasion

Today is the seventy-first anniversary of the D-Day landing. In honor of the many photographers who have put themselves in harms way in order to bring the truth about war to the world,  I thought it appropriate to reprint this blog post I did a year ago on Robert Capa.

Robert Capa, who changed his name from Endre Friedman, was a Hugarian war photographer. He covered five wars including the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War in Vieetnam, where he died May 25th, 1954 by stepping on a land mine. In 1947, along with David "Chim" Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert, he co-founded the international photographers cooperative  agency, Magnum Photos, in Paris. 

Robert Capa went ashore with one of the first assault waves to land on Omaha beach, and recorded the soldiers landing there. On overly enthusiastic darkroom technician ruined most of the film by overheating them while the film was drying. All that was salvaged were eleven grainy, high-contrast images. Nonetheless, the darkroom accident lent the photos a moody air that made them instant icons of the moment. The surviving photos became known as the magnificent eleven and can be seen here.

A photo of Robert Capa with his Contax II.
A question many photographers have, myself included, is what camera Capa used for this event. From the research I have done and photos I have seen of Capa in that era and during the Spanish cival war, it is most likely he was using a Contax II camera. For lenses, I'm guessing he would have had the photo-journalist's favorite arsenal including a 5cm f/1.5 Zeiss Sonnar, 3.5cm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon, and 13.5cm f/4 Zeiss Sonnar. He probably didn't need a light meter for shooting black and white, but could have had a Zeiss Helios meter like the one in the photo below.

A typical WWII photo-journalist's outfit for a Contax II camera might include 3.5cm, 5cm, and 13.5cm lenses like those pictured above.  The small light meter off to the right is a Zeiss Helios.

One of Capa's surviving photos taken with a Contax II camera on D-Day.

Capa had a saying: "If your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough". He was definitely close enough on D-Day.

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