First Look: Robert Capa’s Stunning Color Photographs

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Robert Capa is most famous for his black-and-white war photographs — the photograph Falling Soldier from the Spanish Civil War; the second wave of Americans storming Omaha Beach on D-Day. But lesser known are his color photographs, mainly taken after the war, when he traveled widely, capturing the (generally jubilant) mood of postwar Europe.

Capa in Color, a new exhibit opening at the International Center of Photography tomorrow, is the first show to document his color photography. It showcases more than a hundred of these images — about half of which have never been published — and which were edited down from about 4,200 pictures and color-corrected.

His first experiment with color occurred in 1938, while covering the Sino-Japanese War in China. Color was stigmatized for photojournalists then — it lacked the hard-edged, reportagelike style of black-and-white — and was inconvenient: Color Kodachrome film took two weeks to print, making it inefficient for the immediacy of news. But he used it again on a trip across the Atlantic on a Norwegian freighter on assignment for the Saturday Evening Post in 1941, and in 1943 on a trip from North Africa to Sicily on a supply ship, which were published in Collier’s that summer. 

Capa loved color, even though his magazine editors, initially, did not: He felt it greatly enhanced his pictures, and he was aggressive about pitching color stories. His reliance on the medium grew after the war, especially as he transitioned to the easier-to-produce Eckachrome film. He began to focus on travel stories: an intimate portrait of Picasso and his son Claude in Vallauris, France, in 1948; a trip to Russia with John Steinbeck that same year; glorious summertime scenes of women in bikinis on the beaches of Biarritz in 1951. And, several scenes of Parisian life — the race tracks, the promenades, the cafes — in the years around 1950 (he lived in Paris for many years), which feature chic women in the latest dresses from Christian Dior.

Capa approached these more lifestyle-focused subjects with the same curiosity of his wartime pictures, but with a newfound gaiety: His pictures of a French model and actress, Capucine, in Rome in 1951 in a tight, bright-red sweater and tweed skirt, feel modern, as do joyful pictures of skiiers on the slopes of Klosters in 1950.

Click through our slideshow to see a first look of Capa in Color at ICP through May 4, 2014.

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