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The World in Color During the 1940s and 1950s Through Robert Capa's Lens

Famed photojournalist and founder of Magnum Photos, Robert Capa was primarily known for his black-and-white images. But after World War II he turned increasingly to Color, fulfilling assignments for a variety of popular magazines such as Life and Holiday.

Capa first worked with color in 1938, about two years after Kodachrome, the first color roll film developed by Kodak, was introduced. Already famous for his photographs of the Spanish Civil War, he was working in China covering the second Sino-Japanese War.

Four of Capa’s color images of the burning of Hankou (now part of Wuhan) after the Japanese raids in July 1938 were published in Life magazine. No other color images from that tour survive, however, and Capa only began shooting regularly in color in 1941.

Some of the earliest photographs are of British and American soldiers during World War II, mostly at rest or leisure. A wonderful picture of British soldiers watching a boxing match, shot from above on a troop ship from England to North Africa in 1943, is here. But Capa’s war photographs in color have rarely been published or shown until now.

Sometimes color processing took too long for the magazines publishing his work. But there were other issues. During the ’40s, Capa traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho, and photographed Ernest Hemingway and his sons along with Martha Gellhorn, the war correspondent and Hemingway’s third wife. The color photographs show the sandy landscape of Idaho and the Hemingways in their hunting gear. But Life then printed only black-and-white photos.

Similarly, color photographs of Pablo Picasso with the artist Françoise Gilot and their son, Claude, on the beach in the South of France. Despite Capa’s insistence on payment for both black-and-white and color photographs, a wall label tells us that Look and Illustrated magazines “were disappointed with the color images,” and published only the black-and-white ones.

If only black and white was suitable for war and serious artists, Capa found greater success with his color images of resorts and leisure subjects. One section here is devoted to skiing in the Swiss and Austrian Alps, which Capa did to relax and recuperate between assignments. A wall text describes color photography’s ability to provide “the additional elements of glitter and humor that black and white often missed.”

Other photographs of postwar Paris with spectators at the Longchamp racetrack, fashion models, people sitting in cafes or the Dutch painter Karel Appel in his studio painting with his fingers “on lively, much-admired semi-abstractions,” as the Holiday magazine layout describes it.

Color, you start to realize, was also particularly suitable for women. In addition to fashion models, glamorous women at ski resorts or on the beach in Biarritz, a 1952 all-color spread in Holiday features “a day with a pretty American actress, Gloria Stroock, as she does what every woman wants to do in Rome.” Which is shop for clothes and shoes, of course.

The last color images here were taken of the French Indochina War, which Capa was covering for Life. While on assignment in Vietnam, in May 1954, he stepped on a land mine and died. These are among his strongest war photographs but they weren’t published at the time. Black and white remained the standard for war photography as well as art. Color during Capa’s period was still for commerce, amateurs, leisure — and women.

USA. Sun Valley, Idaho. 1941. Ernest HEMINGWAY with his son Gregory.

NORWAY. 1951. Lapp family.

USA. Indiana. 1949. Rambaugh Family Circus.

USA. Indiana. 1949. Rambaugh Family Circus.

USA. Indiana. 1949. Rambaugh Family Circus.

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This post first appeared on Hopscotch, please read the originial post: here

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The World in Color During the 1940s and 1950s Through Robert Capa's Lens


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