Thread: Capa
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Old 03-01-2019   #21
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QUOTE: "Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
I find it risible to judge the artistic aesthetics of Capa'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 and 105 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."

[quote=Harry Lime;2872777]Amen.

+1 for me too. Peter

PS.....I simply do not get the impulse to try to reinvent history, tear down those who have achieved and justify it based in some cases on what seems to amounts to conspiracy theory thinking. All while missing the point - which is summarized very eloquently by willie_901.

BTW I realized belatedly that the unit Capa elected to hit the beaches with was Easy Company, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, US Army 1st Division . This Division is better known as "The Big Red One" about who's exploits a film was made in the 1960's. It is also known as "The Fighting First".

The Big Red One would have been known to Capa as one of the most experienced and feted units in the American Army having served in North Africa and in Italy and having a history going back to WW1 when it was formed.

I believe that Capa would have almost certainly picked this unit to hit the Normandy beaches with because while, as a humble embedded photographer he could not possibly know which units would have which tasks on which specific beaches, he would have understood that this unit with its record would almost certainly be in the thick of the fighting wherever that fighting took place. Which they were - with some of the division's units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault.

Here is what one account says of those events "Eventually, an assault section of E Company (the very company Capa hit the beaches with) under First Lieutenant John Spalding and Staff Sergeant Philip Streczyk managed to cross a minefield, breach the enemy wire, and struggle their way to the bluff. Colonel George A. Taylor, the regimental commander, noting the small breakthrough stood to his feet and yelled at his troops, "The only men who remain on this beach are the dead and those who are about to die! Let's get moving!" Soon other troops began making their way up the bluffs along Spaulding's route while other gaps were blown through the wire and mines. By vicious fighting, some hand-to-hand, other sections, platoons, and eventually companies made it to the top and began pushing toward Colleville-Sur-Mer. By noon of that bloody day, the 16th Infantry had broken through the beach defenses and established a foothold that allowed follow-on units to land and move through."

Though Capa would not have known if the Big Red One would be in the literal first wave (there is no way he would have been shown the order of battle or the landing plans) he would have understood that this unit certainly would be in one of the first waves. His claim to have been in the first wave may be overcooked when looked at by a pedant who wants to nit pick history to his own advantage. But in a general sense it was perfectly true.
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