Robert Capa is laid to rest, 1954.
In the last week of June 1954, I graduated from Bedford Hills High School in New York state. In the preceding two years, I used photography as a way to create an identity for myself. I wound up being editor of the high school yearbook and also created a job for myself with the local newspaper chain; they needed photos--I worked cheap.
There was a strange rush in the last month of my high school experience. I had covered Rita Hayworth leaving a court building in White Plains, N.Y., after she had filed suit against her husband, Prince Aly Khan. I shot it with a 4x5 Speed Graphic, and the New York Daily Mirror used the picture on the front page.
A week later, I took a train to Washington and covered the Army-McCarthy hearings, in which Sen. Joe McCarthy held the collective lives of a lot of good, decent people in extreme jeopardy. These photographs - along with a photo of Joseph Welsh, the Army counsel who said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" - were used on the front page of the Patent Trader, the newspaper I worked for.
It also inspired me to write an editorial for the Bedford Hills High School newspaper. It called into question McCarthy's tactics. There was a furor surrounding the publication of my editorial. When I graduated, there was no mention that I had ever been the editor of the school paper.
So, here I am, graduating, driving my '41 Chevy down the hill from the high school, and wondering what I am going to do next.
I was listening to WNEW's "Make-Believe Ballroom" when a news bulletin broke in: photographer Robert Capa has been killed in Vietnam.
Robert Capa dead? Robert Capa was my hero.
Why? Well, first off, he was the epitome of a war photographer... handsome... brave... had an affair with Ingrid Bergman...
What was really fascinating about him, though, was that he had CREATED HIMSELF. Robert Capa was really a struggling photographer named Andre Friedman. While covering the Spanish Civil War, he invented the American war photographer, Robert Capa, in order to sell his photographs. A photograph of a Spanish Loyalist militiaman being struck by a bullet at the moment of his death became an instant classic. The newly created Capa quickly became a legend in the new field of photojournalism.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a cowboy. Somewhere in my teens, I decided that being a photojournalist was better.
As I listened to the WNEW broadcast, I heard that Capa was being brought home for burial in a cemetery in Amawalk, N.Y., within my "coverage" territory. On the day of the ceremony, I arrived at the Quaker Cemetery early. I wandered inside, looking for the site. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, a bunch of photographers from the New York dailies had shown up at the front gate of the cemetery, waiting for the body to arrive. A few minutes before the burial was supposed to take place, John Morris, who was then the head of Magnum Photos, came up and asked me to leave.
At this point, a rough, wooden casket, almost like a shipping box, was ushered into the cemetery. Stenciled on it were the words ROBERT CAPA, PHOTOGRAPHE, MORT EN INDOCHINE, 24 JUIN, 1954.
To this day, I don't know why, but I began to cry.
John Morris suddenly looked stricken, and he asked me to wait. A moment later he came back to me and said, "You know, you are a photographer, he would have wanted you here."
So, I photographed the burial, and that week I wrote a story for the Patent Trader about what Robert Capa meant to me. A week later, I called John Morris at his Chappaqua, N.Y., home and delivered a set of prints to him.
As I was leaving he said, "What are you doing this summer?" Well, I had no really important plans. I was supposed to enter Haverford College in the fall. Morris said, "We have a story that's been suggested to us at Magnum, but we don't know what to with it ...."
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