“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” –Robert Capa
Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were young Jewish refugees, idealistic and in love. As photographers in the 1930s, they set off to capture their generation's most important strugglethe fight against fascism. Among the first to depict modern warfare, Capa, Taro, and their friend Chim took powerful photographs of the Spanish Civil War that went straight from the action to news magazines. They brought a human face to war with their iconic shots of a loving couple resting, a wary orphan, and, always, more and more refugeespeople driven from their homes by bombs, guns, and planes.
Today, our screens are flooded with images from around the world. But Capa and Taro were pioneers, bringing home the crises and dramas of their timeand helping give birth to the idea of bearing witness through technology.
With a cast of characters ranging from Langston Hughes and George Orwell to Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, and packed with dramatic photos, posters, and cinematic magazine layouts, here is Capa and Taro’s riveting, tragic, and ultimately inspiring story.
This thoroughly-researched and documented book can be worked into multiple aspects of the common core curriculum.
About the Author
Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos are writers whose first joint book was the acclaimed Sugar Changed the World. Aronson is a passionate advocate of nonfiction and the first winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Budhos writes fiction and nonfiction for adults and teenagers, including the recently published Watched. Aronson is a member of the faculty in the Master of Information program at Rutgers and Budhos is a professor of English at William Paterson University. They live with their two sons in Maplewood, NJ.
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Eyes of the World
Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the invention of photojournalism
By Marc Aronson, Marina Budhos
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2017 Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
All rights reserved.
IF HE COULD JUST FIND THE GIRL.
André Friedmann pauses in front of La Coupole. He searches the faces of patrons sitting out on the terrace in cane chairs, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. André is dressed in a battered leather jacket, the same pair of trousers he wears every day, and old shoes whose soles are worn thin. No matter: he is handsome, with slicked-back black hair, twinkling eyes, and a ready, charming smile.
A small camera — a Leica — hangs on a thin strap around his neck. He carries a sheaf of photographs. Lucky for André the camera isn't in the pawnshop, where it often lands when he can't pay his bills. Money just leaks from André's pockets. There have been times when he has fled from an enraged landlady for not paying the rent, leaving his shoes and belongings behind. And he's always getting himself into awful fixes. Once, an assignment sent him down to the Riviera — the wealthy beach resort area in the south of France — where he not only burned through his budget but ruined a borrowed camera by trying to shoot scenes underwater.
Today, André must find a girl — a model, that is — for a photography assignment. He desperately needs this job. Work is hard to come by these days. Paris, like the rest of France, the rest of Europe, and the United States, is suffering a terrible economic depression. It's not uncommon to see young men sleeping on benches, keeping themselves warm with flasks of whiskey, or scraping food off the pavement. Paris is charming, but not if you cannot eat.
There is a sense of crisis all over Europe. First the devastation of World War I, in which entire swaths of France, Belgium, and Germany were churned into mud from brutal battles, and a whole generation of young men were wounded or killed. Then the crippling Depression, with factories and stores shuttered and breadlines on the streets of every city. So-called democracy seems either a total failure or a complete fraud.
A mood of rage and blame hangs over the continent. Just last year, in 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed the political leader of Germany. He promised to bring the German people "unity of mind and will" through shared racial bonds. In many German cities storm troopers roam the streets, beating up dissidents and slowly eliminating political opposition. In countries all across continental Europe — and even in England and the United States — political parties that describe Jews and communists as a kind of disease, an infection undermining the good people of the land, are gaining strength. But reports from the communist Soviet Union are also ominous. There are rumors that the government is deliberately keeping food from Ukrainian farmers, driving them to starvation.
André and his friends — nonconformists, leftists, Jews — are constantly on edge. No one knows where to go, where to live. A few are lucky enough to get visas to England or the United States, where they can start again. But the United States has strict limits on how many Jews it will admit, and its State Depart-ment officers so dislike Jews that they don't even fill the small quotas. Those who cannot leave Europe move around, trying one city after another.
Paris has become a city of refuge, where people fleeing Hitler and other dictators are safe for the moment. Not that it's easy to make a home here; a lot of Parisians don't like these newcomers. After all, many of the refugees speak German, and the French painfully remember their bloody battles with Germany during World War I just sixteen years before. And with French people out of work, no one wants outsiders taking jobs. So foreigners, exiles, are not allowed to work full-time. They must scrape by, as best they can, with freelance work, often relying on their own networks of friends and relations.
André got today's assignment from an old friend who told him of a Swiss insurance company that needed a photo of a German-looking girl with short blond hair and blue eyes. La Coupole, on the Left Bank, is where many of the German-speaking immigrants congregate. Like nearby Café du Dome, this café with its deep rows of cane chairs serves as a kind of home base for refugees and immigrants. Most live in tiny rooms and have little money and few possessions. Artists, writers, and photographers gather at the café to get tips about work, and talk and talk, mostly about politics.
Now André spots her: a slender, athletic-looking young woman with bobbed blond hair, chatting with a few other young women on the terrace. Perfect!s he thinks, and rushes over to introduce himself.
Ruth Cerf, the blond girl, is not charmed. She eyes the scruffy young man with suspicion. Strange, she thinks. Sloppy, disheveled. Not appealing.
Still — maybe it's those dark eyes, or his disarming sense of humor; maybe she is flattered, or perhaps she feels sorry for him. He does look poor. And Ruth, who has come from Germany only a year ago, knows how hard it is to make a living here in Paris, especially as an immigrant. She even offers to buy him a cup of coffee, which he eagerly accepts. André explains he'd like her to pose for his assignment — they can meet at a nearby park, just blocks away. He pulls out a few of his photographs to show that he is serious, that this is not a con. Ruth is not sure — she does not want to be alone with a guy like this. Finally she agrees.
Ruth thinks: I'll bring my roommate along as a chaperone. Just in case.
ANDRÉ HAS ALWAYS BEEN A ROVER.
When he was a little boy growing up in Budapest, Hungary, he would wander about the city with his gang of friends, pulling pranks. In some ways, he took after his father, Dezso?, who loved to tell the story of how he'd traveled around Europe as a young man using a menu as a fake passport. Dezso? was also a gambler who spent the whole night at cafés playing cards with his friends. The family ran a tailoring business; after the economic crash in 1929, they operated out of their apartment, so André's home life was always haphazard. Thirty or forty employees streamed in and out of the apartment; sewing machines whirred until midnight. And as the family's business began to fail and they moved from place to place, collection agencies came knocking at the door to demand money for debts.
André's family was Jewish, but not particularly religious. Still, they were keenly aware of the rising danger to Jews. When André was six years old, gangs of anti-Semitic hooligans dragged Jews from their homes and from streetcars and beat them up. "Growing up in Budapest," a childhood friend of André's recalls, "one was constantly reminded of one's Jewishness. School arguments would often end by someone screaming 'you stinking Jew.'" By the time André was a young adult, Hungary was led by a dictator who was openly anti-Semitic. André developed a natural hatred toward anyone authoritarian or rule-bound. In his high school André always clashed with a rigid teacher, who would exclaim, "You are a cancer of the class!"
At seventeen, André and his friends joined a strike and protest march, which were forbidden by the government. By this time André had moved into leftist circles, even though he often joked, "The girls in the [Communist] Party are too ugly."
One night, the police showed up at the Friedmanns' door and took André away to prison, where he was beaten. Because the wife of the head of the secret police was a customer of his mother's, he was able to get out of jail, as long as he agreed to leave the country. André's worried mother put her son on a train to Vienna. From there, he would somehow make his way to Germany.
There, in the drizzly streets of Berlin, Germany's capital, with very little money, André began to immerse himself in photography, working as a darkroom assistant and errand boy for Dephot, a photo service. Dephot, like other agencies, served as a kind of clearinghouse for photographs. Photographers would bring in their images, which would then be sold to publications all over Europe and sometimes in America, too. During this period, picture agencies offered one of the very few pathways for refugees such as André to scratch out a living.
Soon André was carrying equipment, and then taking on assignments himself and showing talent. He continued to move in leftist political circles, still with a whiff of the teenage prankster. On cold nights, André and his friends would pour buckets of water onto the streets in the hopes that the Nazis who marched past in their black boots would slip and fall.
But by 1933, when Hitler was appointed chancellor, André began to see brown-shirted thugs assaulting Jews and leftists on the streets of Berlin. He knew it was time to leave. He and his childhood friend Cziki Weisz made their way to Paris.
Ominous news from Germany followed him. Shortly after André left Berlin, Hitler's regime began enacting laws against Jews, who were forbidden to hold any public-service jobs or work in professions such as the law. Jewish professors and students were forced to leave their universities. They were forbidden even to appear onstage or in movies.
PARIS MIGHT BE A HAVEN, but for how long? Flickering on screens in movie theaters are newsreels of the dictator thrusting his arm out in the Nazi salute, declaring his ambitions to conquer more of Europe, the world. Crackling over the Bakelite radios, shouting from a balcony in Rome, come the speeches of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose army is threatening to invade Ethiopia. The Japanese have taken over Manchuria. The League of Nations — the last hope for finding world peace — seems doomed as it can do nothing to halt either Mussolini or the Japanese. Everyone fears a new world war is imminent.
André stays focused on his pictures. They are his ticket to survival. If his shots are good — not too blurred and rushed, as they sometimes are — then he will be able to earn enough francs to pay off his debts. He will get through just one more day.
Fortunately, the photography session with Ruth Cerf is a success. She poses on a bench in a little park, her blond hair shining in the sunlight. Ruth photographs well — she has wide eyes and a large, sensuous mouth; her beauty has helped her to land several modeling jobs. Yet the whole time, it is actually Ruth's vivacious, red-haired friend who catches André's eye.
Ruth's friend looks like a silent movie star, and she knows it. Her eyebrows are plucked, giving her foxlike face a startled look, like the famous actress Greta Garbo. She looks like a girl who knows how to stretch her francs and carry herself with flair — she wears berets cocked just so on her hair, dyed red with henna. A friend describes her as "beautiful, like a little deer, with big eyes, auburn hair, and fine features."
He learns her name: Gerta Pohorylle.
GERTA WAS ALWAYS DETERMINED. She grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, where her father was a Jewish grocer selling dairy goods. He made enough money to give his daughter a nice middleclass childhood. She enjoyed fashionable clothes, went to a girls' school with other German children, spent one year at a Swiss boarding school, played tennis, and, in her teen years, had a dashing boyfriend.
In 1929, when she was nineteen, her family moved to Leipzig. Her father's business began to falter. Gerta was now drawn to politics. She joined the local Socialist Workers' Party, as did her brothers, and all three siblings were soon active in anti-Nazi activities, including a leafleting campaign.
One day in 1933 her two brothers dared to scatter anti-Nazi pamphlets from the roof of a department store. Immediately, they fled into hiding. Hoping to pressure the family, the authorities arrested Gerta, who arrived at the jail dressed in a bright checked skirt. Even in prison, Gerta never lost her lightheartedness. She spent several weeks locked up, developing friendships with the other inmates and passing the time by singing American jazz songs. She also displayed a hint of her steely bravery and sharp mind — tapping in code on the prison walls to communicate with others, crying in front of an official in order to soften his heart and secure her release.
By the time she was set free from prison, Gerta knew she must leave Germany as soon as possible. And so, like André, like thousands of other young people, many of them Jewish, in October 1933 she rushed to Paris.
Those early days in Paris! Gerta and her best friend, Ruth, who had come a few months before, roomed together. Gerta picked up a bit of work, but they had so little money that their stomachs gnawed with hunger. On weekends, they'd stay in their room and huddle under the quilt in their one bed, just to conserve energy. Or they'd head over to a café, where they'd play a trick: grabbing a croissant from a huge basket on the bar, they quickly ate half of it, signaling to the waiter to charge them and also order a drink. When the waiter turned his back, they would wolf down the rest of the croissant, then eat half of another.
For a brief while, she and Ruth roomed with Fred Stein and his wife, Liselotte, who had an enormous apartment with extra bedrooms. Fred had originally studied to be a lawyer in Berlin, but when he was unable to practice under Nazi law, he too picked up a camera and was making a go of it professionally.
What good parties they all had there — putting colored bulbs in the lamps, dancing! Fred snapped pictures of Gerta, mugging away. Yes, being poor, a stranger in a strange city, was awful, but to have the solace of friends, all in the same situation, made it easier. Maybe that's why, as Ruth put it, "we were all of the Left." That is, they belonged to a loose collection of groups opposed to fascism and in favor of workers' rights.
Gerta was never exactly a joiner. Her sympathies, her ideas, came from her years in Leipzig. She hated the Nazis and knew how dangerous it was becoming for her family. But she wasn't one of those who debated every political point. She wasn't part of the Communist Party, which took its direction from the Soviet Union. But she did care about social issues, about the future ahead. They all did.
For now, there was food and coffee at the Café du Dome and talk with friends. And photographs. Above all, photographs.CHAPTER 2
COMPLETELY IN LOVE
FALL 1934–SPRING 1936
FROM THE START, Gerta treats André as a friend, a pal, a kind of project. In the undisciplined, lovably boyish André, she sees an enormous talent for photography. She shows André how to groom himself, gives him tips on how to present himself to magazines, and critiques his story ideas. In a way, she "professionalizes" him and makes him get serious about his photography.
During this time, André's feelings for Gerta begin to shift. He becomes more dependent on her — especially as there are many ups and downs in his life: though he gets assignments and sells pictures, half his projects fizzle out, and he can barely make ends meet. Still he dreams. Gerta becomes more attached to him, though she seems to think of him still as a friend, her copain — comrade and colleague — whose talent she believes in.
In April, even though André lands an assignment in Spain, his spirits sink to a new low. Always the more emotional of the two, he confesses to Gerta that "in Madrid I felt I had become a nobody." He ends his letter with a tentative confession, reaching out to the girl who is starting to steady his ambitions: "Sometimes, I am, nevertheless, completely in love with you."
That summer Gerta and André join a group of friends and camp out in the ruins of an old fortress in the south of France. It is a glorious two months' adventure. They eat makeshift meals, swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, snap pictures. They leave all their troubles behind: they are not Jews, worried about a landlady who might be a Nazi sympathizer. They are not refugees without proper papers, fretting about their family. They are not running or desperate. They are just like any other young people, carefree, lighthearted. They build campfires, flirt, their eyes shining in the firelight.
And they fall in love.
In autumn, André and Gerta move into a one-room apartment near the Eiffel Tower and set up a new life together. "Imagine, Mother," André writes home, "my hair is short, my tie is hanging on my neck, my shoes are shined, and I appear on the scene at seven o'clock. And what is more surprising, in the evening at nine, I am already at home. In one word, it is the end of the bohemian life."
Gerta gets a new job working for Maria Eisner, who runs Alliance Photo, an agency that distributes photographs to newspapers and magazines all over Europe. With dramatic events swirling throughout the world, the demand for photographs is high. Selling photos is an excellent way for an outsider to get her footing in a foreign country.
André proudly tells his mother, "Considering that she is even more intelligent than she is pretty, the results are great, and the firm is selling six times as many photographs as they had previously."
Excerpted from Eyes of the World by Marc Aronson, Marina Budhos. Copyright © 2017 Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PROLOGUE: BOB'S STORY,
CHAPTER ONE: THE ASSIGNMENT,
CHAPTER TWO: COMPLETELY IN LOVE,
CHAPTER THREE: A STORY IN PICTURES,
CHAPTER FOUR: FIRST STOP: REVOLUTION,
CHAPTER FIVE: INTERLUDE: "THE ARTIST MUST TAKE SIDES",
CHAPTER SIX: THE SIEGE OF MADRID,
CHAPTER SEVEN: INTERLUDE: ACTION ON THE PAGE,
CHAPTER EIGHT: TOGETHER IN RUINS,
CHAPTER NINE: GERDA ALONE,
CHAPTER TEN: FRACTURES,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: COURAGE,
CHAPTER TWELVE: COMRADES IN THE FOREST,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: TALKING AND DANCING,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: ONE MORE DAY, ONE MORE SHOT,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A MARTYR IS BORN,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: FLIGHT,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: "THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY OF THE CENTURY",
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: WHAT REMAINS?,
CHAPTER NINETEEN: TO SEE,
APPENDIX A: THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE FALLING SOLIDER,
APPENDIX B: THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE DEATH OF OLIVER LAW,
APPENDIX C: THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR,
CAST OF CHARACTERS,
HOW WE CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK,
About the Authors,