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Oh Please!
Old 02-26-2019   #13
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Oh Please!

I find it risible to judge the artistic aesthetics of Cappa's D-Day photographs. Comparing them to photographs made under pleasant and relaxed circumstances is naive and superficial.
  • Cappa was in the first assault on Omaha Beach.
  • The troops (and Cappa) had just completed a 17 hour crossing in rough seas. They were physically stressed well before people began to do their very best to kill them.
  • At the time of the initial landing the waves were 5-6 feet and the wind was at their back. All the landing craft were difficult to control and many were swamped. When these photographs were made people were struggling and drowning nearby.
  • By the way, at the same time Nazi defenders were firing 75 and105 mm cannons and a variety of anti-tank guns at the landing craft. These weapons were manned by veteran troops (352nd Infantry Division) .
  • "I was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in-between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That's how lucky you had to be." Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion.
  • The US 1st and 29th infantry divisions suffered ~ 2,000 casualties during the Omaha beach assault.
  • Is it likely Cappa made these photographs while realizing he could be drowned or blown to bits at any time?

Yet, despite these circumstance it is valid to criticize Cappa for a deficit of aesthetics? Evaluating them as if they were in a juried exhibition is a staggering disregard of context. These are simply beyond my comprehension.

I wish HCB had been on the same landing craft with Cappa. Then we'd have some proper photographs. Or, maybe Winogrand would have delivered images with an interesting balance between form and content. No. Any sane person who be terrified. Aesthetics would be very low priority.

Separately, whatever Cappa's personal failings might be or how his story may have been amplified or glorified, are irrelevant. Cappa made those photographs under circumstances very few (if any) of us can fully appreciate. Nothing about his life before or afterwards is detracts from what he accomplished during that morning in France.
Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form.
Garry Winogrand
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