Photographers of the Spanish Civil War

Robert Capa

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Biography taken from Magnum

On 3 December 1938 Picture Post introduced ‘The Greatest War Photographer in the World: Robert Capa’ with a spread of 26 photographs taken during the Spanish Civil War.

But the ‘greatest war photographer’ hated war. Born Andre Friedmann to Jewish parents in Budapest in 1913, he studied political science at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in Berlin. Driven out of the country by the threat of a Nazi regime, he settled in Paris in 1933.

He was represented by Alliance Photo and met the journalist and photographer Gerda Taro. Together, they invented the ‘famous’ American photographer Robert Capa and began to sell his prints under that name. He met Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, and formed friendships with fellow photographers David ‘Chim’ Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

From 1936 onwards, Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War appeared regularly. His picture of a Loyalist soldier who had just been fatally wounded earned him his international reputation and became a powerful symbol of war.

After his companion, Gerda Taro, was killed in Spain, Capa travelled to China in 1938 and emigrated to New York a year later. As a correspondent in Europe, he photographed the Second World War, covering the landing of American troops on Omaha beach on D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge.

In 1947 Capa founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. On 25 May 1954 he was photographing for Life in Thai-Binh, Indochina, when he stepped on a landmine and was killed. The French army awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm post-humously. The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award was established in 1955 to reward exceptional professional merit.

Gerda Toro

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Biography taken from Famous Photographers

Gerda Taro (born Gerta Pohorylle) was a photographer of war, as well as a work partner and companion of Robert Capa (born Friedmann Endre). She lived from 1910 until 1937 and was born in Stuttgart, Germany to a Galician Jewish family belonging to the middle class stratum. Taro is considered as the first woman photojournalist to document war frontlines and dying whilst doing this.

In 1929, Taro and her family shifted to Leipzig, just before the start of the Nazi era. She supported the leftists instead of the Nazis. In 1933, she was detained for campaigning against the Nazi government. Her entire family was forced to find residence in some other country than Germany. She and her family went to different abodes.

Escaping Hitler’s rule over Germany, in 1934 Taro went to Paris. A year later, she met Rober Capa and became his assistant. During this time, she learned much about photography and eventually the two fell in love. Taro then became image editor at Alliance Photo.

Gerda Taro was given her primary credential as a photojournalist in 1936. Friedmann and Taro developed a plan of taking news related photographs and selling it by Robert Capa’s name in order to conveniently get through the increasing political turmoil. However, soon their secret was discovered. Even then, Friedmann took over Robert Capa as alternative professional name and Taro’s real name was Gerta Pohorylle which she changed to Gerda Taro after Tarō Okamoto (artists from Japan). In the 1930s,  the duo worked in alliance and covered events close to the coming of the Popular Front power.

In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War sparked, Taro traveled to Barcelona. She recorded the events with David Seymour and Capa. The three documented the war in South of Córdoba and in the Northeast of Aragon. The early photos of war by them are distinct since Taro shot using a Rollei camera that produced squared photos and on the other hand Capa used rendered rectangle Lieca image. For a while in 1937, Capa and Taro worked using similar photographic films.

Afterwards, Taro refused the Capa’s proposal for marriage and moved on with her career, independently. She became involved with the European anti- fascist intellectuals, such as George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. Her work was published by a newspaper belonging to the leftists, Ce Soir. Later, she commercialized her work under the label, Photo Taro and distributed it to publications like Illustrated London News, Life, Volks Illustrierte, and Regards.

Her unaccompanied photographic documentation of  the bombing in Valencia attained her the most renowned photographs. In 1937 July, her photos were in demand by the press internationally, when Taro was photographically covering Madrid’s region Brunete for the magazine, Ce Soir. At the Battle of Brunete, Taro endured critical and multiple injuries and died.

Her political commitment gained her a anti-fascist label. The French Communist Party provided her with a magnificent funeral in France’s city Paris.

In 2007, her work was displayed in a major American exhibition at the International Center of Photography.

Much after her death, Taro is still remembered. A novel by Susana Fortes, Waiting for Robert Capa is a fictional account of the life of Capa and Gerda Taro. In 2012, a British band sang a song called Taro for their album, An Awesome Wave. Moreover, The Mexican Suitcase is a documentary which narrates the story of Taro’s 4,500 misplaced negatives. These negatives are in the possession of the International Center of Photography.

 David Seymour

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Biography taken from National Gallery of Art

Born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, David Seymour grew up in a cosmopolitan household. His father was a leading publisher of Hebrew and Yiddish books, and he ran a bookstore that was a locus of Warsaw’s Jewish intellectual life. During World War I (1914–1918) the family fled to Minsk and then Odessa before returning to Warsaw in 1919.

A passionate reader, talented pianist, and precocious linguist, Seymour passed his baccalaureate in 1929 and then studied printing technology at Leipzig’s prestigious Staatliche Akademie für Graphische Künste und Buchgewerbe. He retuned home after graduating in 1931, but faced with Poland’s worsening economic and political climate he decided to continue his education in Paris. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1932 to study physics and chemistry.

Concerned about straining his family’s resources, Seymour in 1933 sought work from David Rappaport, a family friend who ran a Paris-based photo agency. Though untrained in photography, Seymour was a quick learner. Soon his photographs, largely of working class subjects, began appearing in several Parisian illustrated periodicals. He started stamping his prints “Chim,” an abbreviated version of Szymin that was easier to pronounce. In 1934, he was appointed staff photographer for Regards, a leftist illustrated weekly that pioneered humanist photography in France. During these early years in Paris he also forged a lifelong friendship with Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, two other young, politically progressive photographers.

Regards sent Chim to report on the Spanish Civil War soon after its outbreak in July 1936. His photographs of battles and especially of life behind the lines cemented his reputation as a leading photojournalist. He photographed the defeated Republicans fleeing to France and then covered the voyage of the first ship to carry Spanish émigrés to Mexico.

Seymour made his way from Mexico to New York, arriving just after the beginning of World War II. Taking advantage of immigration regulations that allowed foreigners to open businesses, he teamed up with German photographer Leo Cohn to open what soon became a highly regarded photo-finishing business (called Leco) in New York. Many notable photographers who had left Europe, including André Kertész, used Leco as their darkroom.

Chim was drafted into the American army in 1942. While training in military intelligence at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Fearful of reprisals by the Nazis against his family in occupied Poland, he adopted a new, Anglo-Saxon name, David Robert Seymour. Between 1942 and 1945, Chim served in photo reconnaissance and interpretation in the U.S. Army. He worked in England, France, and eventually occupied Germany, earning several promotions and a bronze star. While in Paris to celebrate the city’s liberation he found that his old apartment had been sealed by the SS, but that nothing had been removed. Soon he would learn that both his parents had been killed by the Nazis.

In 1947, Seymour cofounded Magnum Photos and served as its first vice president. In 1948, he was commissioned by UNICEF to photograph the plight of Europe’s children in the aftermath of World War II. The resulting images—striking and sympathetic—are among his best-known works.

In the 1950s, Seymour made Rome his home base. He became the trusted portraitist of many film stars—including Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Ingrid Bergman—whose images were in high demand by magazines such as Life. With a deep affinity for Mediterranean culture, he traveled frequently around Italy and Greece to pursue his own photography. He also became a dedicated documentor of the new state of Israel, with which he identified closely.

He continued to photograph regularly, even after assuming the presidency of Magnum following Capa’s death in 1954. Seymour remained president until November 10, 1956, when he and French photographer Jean Roy were killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire en route to covering a prisoner exchange in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis.

Kati Horna

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Profile taken from Time

When Kati Horna covered the Spanish Civil War, she was alongside documentary photography giants such as Robert Capa, her childhood friend. Yet, her unusual, surrealist-inspired images of that conflict stand in stark contrast to Capa’s frontline photographs, making her contributions to the annals of conflict photography even more singular.

Horna’s adventurous life took her from her native Hungary to Berlin, Paris, and ultimately Mexico. She was born Katalin Deutsch in 1912 to a Jewish family in Budapest; there she met Capa (then known as Endré Friedmann) when she was a teenager. The two quickly became inseparable, signed up in the same left-wing movement, and took up photography, often making each other’s portraits.

In 1930, Horna and Capa were separated when she went to live in Berlin. In the German capital, she worked for Simon Guttman’s agency, Dephot, and met with playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht as well as painter and photographer Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. The latter’s photomontage work and his double-exposure photographs were to be a lasting influence.

In March 1933, when the National Socialist Party came to power, Horna fled to Paris, where she was reunited with Capa. Armed with a 6×6 Rolleiflex, she did reportages on Paris flea markets and cafés for the agency Lutetia-Press, but, immersed in Surrealism’s birthplace, she quickly developed a taste for the staged shot, superimposition, and the image as a poetic narrative.

Four years later, when the Confédération Générale du Travail union asked her to document the Spanish Civil War, she left with Capa and his assistant, Chiki Weisz, as well as Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour. For the next 18 months, she photographed at the Aragon front, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and a number of remote towns and villages. Her photographs were published in Spanish anarchist magazines such as Umbral (where she met her future husband, Jose Horna), Tierra y Libertad, Libre-Studio, Tiempo Nuevos and Mujeres Libres.

Like Chim, Horna rarely photographed battlefronts and concentrated on the effects of war on the everyday life of the civil population, especially women and children. Her images of a lonely child, sitting on a house’s stone steps in Vincen, his finger in his mouth; of children playing; or of women washing laundry in a Barcelona fountain, their backs turned to us, radiate a lyrical and melancholy feeling.

Her images of men behind the lines – one shaving, face covered in foam, another sitting down in a field next to a trench to write a letter – display humor and a strong sense of intimacy with her subjects. Others, such as La Madre Espana, her hand hiding her face, and another of an old woman in profile, her black headscarf blowing in the wind, become symbols of suffering or defiance.

Information from

1912 Born on 19 May in Budapest, the city where she learned the techniques of photography. She met the photojournalist Robert Capa and the photographer Emerico Chiki Weisz.

1930 Arrived in Berlin, along with her compatriots Robert Capa and Chiki Weisz and met the German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht and entered his circles.

1933 Arrived in Paris where she consolidated her education as a photographer and realized various documentary assignments for the French company Agence Photo.

1937 She traveled to in the footsteps of Weisz and Capa. She worked on an album for outside propaganda for the Republican Government and as a graphic reporter in magazines like Umbral where she met José Horna.

1938 Kati and José Horna were married.

1939 When World War II broke out, the couple left Paris to seek refuge in Mexico where they came in contact with other exiled artists like Remedios Varo, Benjamín Péret, Leonora Carrington, Gunther Gerzso, Wolfgang Paalen, Alice Rahon, Mathias Goeritz, entre otros.

1939 After arriving in Mexico, she participated with different magazines. In Todo she published the visual story Así se va otro año (Lo que va al cesto), 1939; in Mapa she published La evacuación de los sin culpa, 1940, and Tránsito, 1941; in Nosotros she published Lucha contra las tinieblas5445, 1944, Loquibambia, 1944, Asilo para ancianos, 1944 and Títeres en la penitenciaría, 1945; and, in the magazine S.nob she participated with Oda a la necrofilia (Fetiche núm. 1), Impromptu con Arpa (Fetiche núm. 2) and Paraísos artificiales (Fetiche núm. 4), 1962, among others.

1949 On 20 October Norah Horna was born, the only child of José and Kati.

1958-1965 Kati collaborated with the magazine directed by Anita Breen, Mexico This Month. In January of 1965 she published House of History with photographs of Trotsky’s house. Other projects by Kati for this publication show the work of some artists like Germán Cueto, Pedro Friedeberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mathias Goeritz and Leonora Carrington. She converted herself into the great portrait photographer of the artistic and literary vanguards of Mexico.

1961 Participated in the group show of “Los hartos” at the Galería Antonio Souze.

1963 José Horna died on 4 August.

1973-2000 Directed the Taller de Fotografía at the Antigua Academia de San Carlos.

1983 Sold 270 negatives to the Ministerio de Cultura Español that were taken during the Spanish Civil War. That archive is actually in the Archivo General de la Guerra Civil Española in the city of Salamanca, Spain.

1985 Donated 6,750 negatives, 3,817 contact prints, 408 slides and 496 original impressions to the Centro Nacional de Difusión e Investigación de las Artes Plásticas (Cenidiap), an institution under the aegis of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) of Mexico.

1993 In May, she agreed to a televised interview by Emilio Cárdenas Elorduy, a unique document with her talking about her life.

2000 Kati Horna passed away in Mexico City on 19 October. Her legacy is made up of 20,000 celluloid negatives and 6x6cm slides and 3,000 vintage photographs.


Large photographs from the Civil War              

Below video shows a retrospective exhibition of her work at Concord, Paris from June to September 2014.  More about the exhibition.

Interesting and full bio and critique of her work  :

Another study of her life and work                                

Displacements: the real and surreal photographs of Kati Horna

Augusti Centelles

Valencia  1909 – Barcelona 1985

‘I call myself an image hunter’

Centelles is known as the Spanish Robert Capa and is a pioneer of photo-journalism , a staunch Republican who is most famous for his images of the Spanish Civil War.

Centelles was apprenticed in the 1920’s to the Spanish cinemamatic pioneer Ramon Banos. By 1934 he was an independent photographer for the Spanish press and his images were often used in  pre-Republican propaganda stories.

He reported the conquest of Teruel, one of the war’s fiercest battles, but by 1939  had fled to France  taking his most important negatives with him.  Franco had seized all those left behind.

In France Centelles was  imprisoned in  the Bram P.O.W camp , where he set up a small darkroom and  continued to photograph the camp and its prisoners, leading to some of his most important work.

On his eventual return to Spain in 1946 he left all his remaining negatives  in the attic  of a house in Carcassonne, realizing that they might be seized again by the Francoist authorities, implicating his fellow  Republicans.

In 1976 , 30 years after leaving France and  after the death of Franco, he returned to Caracassone to retrieve his negatives which  now form part of the photographic collection  at the Salamanca Centre of History  .

Harry Randall

Obituary from The Independent

A headless corpse of an enemy soldier slumped forward in a captured trench; a shallow frontline grave of piled-up stones with two unevenly shaped planks of wood as a makeshift cross; a serious-looking bespectacled young soldier pounding away on a typewriter in the middle of an orange grove: these were just some of the hundreds of images that Harry Randall, official photographer for the XV International Brigade of anti-fascist volunteers, captured during Spain’s Civil War.

Randall had a personal favourite: a shot of a large group of Brigaders sleeping on railway station platforms and benches, one of them so exhausted from the day’s march he is slumped on the tracks, using a rail as a pillow. As he once reflected, “They could be an army anywhere.”

But the International Brigades were no ordinary military organisation. Outside Spain, the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39 is often described as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War, and as a teenager Randall had been involved in supporting labour movements and the struggle against fascism near his college at Portland, Ohio. Aged 21, he was one of tens of thousands of volunteers who travelled to Spain to fight for the fledgling Republican democracy against General Franco’s forces and his German and Italian backers.

Arriving in Spain on 1 July 1937, after a brief spell training with the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion –Canadian, but containing a large number of Americans – Randall was appointed head of the photographic section of the XV International Brigade, the unit which contained the largest number of English speaking volunteers. His official brief was to take photos for the Brigade’s newsletter, Volunteer for Liberty, and distribute images to news outlets and agencies: but the actual extent of his work was far broader than that.

The compact 35mm camera and lightweight movie cameras were two innovations of the time that permitted cameramen and photojournalists suddenly to get much closer to “live” miitary action. Robert Capa’s “Fallen Militiaman” photo, perhaps the Civil War’s best-known photograph and seemingly taken at the exact moment a militiaman was killed by enemy fire, was a case in point.

Armed with such technology, Randall’s tiny unit – Randall, Benjamin Katine and Anthony B Drossel and thelab technician William H Oderaka – recorded images of war with an immediacy that had rarely been possible before. Sometimes their photographs are harrowing, sometimes touchingly human, sometimes (like the soldier typing in an orange grove) almost surreal.

The quantity and quality of their output was all the more remarkable given that the Brigade was never in the same war zone for more than a few months, and often flung into the bloodiest of battles. A dearth of film and printing paper was one regularly recurring obstacle for Randall and his men; working in a mobile lab was another, while just reaching the Brigade’s lines a third: “We are frequently located in a town some distance from any other Brigade unit.” Randall said in a 1938 account that appears in Cary Nelson’s book on Civil War photography, The Aura Of The Cause. ” Where and what to eat then becomes [a] problem.”

During one relentlessly long retreat across southern Aragon in the spring of 1938, much of the photographic unit’s work, not to mention their best camera, was lost. “We found ourselves acting as runners, ammunition carriers, guards, observers, anything that was needed during those chaotic days,” Randall recalled.

However, more than enough of Randall’s archive survived to show how, as Nelson puts it, “Thousands of volunteers from some fifty countries had gathered… to defend an ideal. They thought of themselves not merely as an army but also as a kind of community, almost an alternative social order… The job of the photographers was to record the whole culture, not only for posterity but for the men and women themselves.”

The unit’s photos, of which some 1,800 are extant,  also provided a record of a key moment in American race relations. In the Civil War – for the first time in American military history – there was no segregation, and black officers commanded white troops, fighting and dying alongside them. With the War all but lost and the Brigades disbanded, Randall returned to New York in January 1939, taking with him the bulk of the unit’s photographic and film material. It now forms part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.

It says a lot about Harry that he insisted that the photographic archive be named after his unit, rather than just himself, as was originally proposed,” points out researcher Juan Salas, who first met Randall back in 2001. “He never wanted to take all the credit. He was a very meticulous person, very lucid and analytical with his own work, but warmhearted, open and tolerant, too, of new ideas.” Randall rarely talked about the Spanish Civil War and when he did  “it was rational, in a way too rational. It was maybe his way of dealing with the war.

Still politically committed, Randall volunteered for the Canadian army in the Second World War (once again editing films for his unit) before returning to the US. He then spent the last part of his working life making medical documentaries, which included directing films for the American Cancer Society. However, Harry Randall will arguably be best remembered for photos like that of an anonymous Civil War soldier, asleep on a railway track somewhere in Spain.

Harry Randall, photographer, film-maker and anti-fascist activist: born Spokane, Washington, US 20 December 1915; married 1956 Doreen Cavalier (two children); died Snowflake, Arizona 11 November 2012.