Robert Capa ? nah...
Felt like blogging, without really knowing what to write about.
So happens earlier today I got the last album that just came out by Reporters without borders (Reporters sans Frontières aka RSF), a special 50th anniversary issue with pics by Robert Capa.
So I'm thinking: I could try dissing Robert Capa.
Since I'm going to write about him, though, why the negativity, I may as well erupt in praise - except it would hardly be interesting or original.
So dissing it shall be.
Now Capa was unquestionnably a pioneer, with a glamorous, adverturous, swashbuckling persona, and took what are probably the two mose memorable war images ever: the falling soldier, and the blurred marine crawling onto the beach on D-day.
Thing is, there are still questions as to whether the first was staged, and the blur making the second so iconic was an accident - but granted, they're still hugely iconic and powerful.
Still, leafing through that RSF album (and indeed Capa's illustrated autobiography, Slightly out of focus, which I have on my shelf), you have to ask yourself: is the man's reputation deserved ? Are his photos being judged by different, altogether softer standards ? Aren't they being viewed through the gushingly generous prism of the man's persona ?
Capa was of course known a) primarily as a (pioneering - meaning there wasn't much competition) war photographer, and b) for quipping "if your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough" (check this link for more quotes, illustrating Capa's savviness as a communicator and self-publicist).
But if you think about it for half a second (admittedly from the comfort of your sofa), how hard can it be, in a time of war, to take close-up photos of people expressing powerful feelings ?
It's a matter of taste at the end of the day and there's certainly a lot to be said about the raw power of close-ups and tight frames - but it also makes composing a shot quite a bit easier, and what might be gained in raw emotion and punchiness may also be lost in complexity and richness.
Here's a little thought experiment that's actually not too hard: take practically any Capa picture and "modernize" it, sharpening them and exchanging people's quaint 40's, 50's and 60's haircuts and clothes for the contemporary, nondescript equivalent, and ask yourself: what's the big deal now ?!
Truth is, most of it really wouldn't cut much ice next to so many amazing war photographers from the 70's onwards.
To summarize it rather more uncharitably: aside from the fact that Capa knew how to milk the persona he built for himself with the benefit of being a pioneer, his pictures, at the end of the day, are probably regarded more for their documentary value and their 40's to 60's quaintness, than for their real photographic value.
There, have I made at least a half convincing case ?