Seventy years ago, the great war photographer joined the first slaughterhouse wave of D-day, recording W.W. II’s pivotal battle in 11 historic images of blur and grit. But that is only a fraction compared with what he shot—and lost.
The orders came to Life war photographer Robert Capa in London from the United States Army in the last days of May of 1944: You are not to leave your flat for more than an hour at a time. Your equipment must be packed.
Capa was one of four photographers chosen to cover the first days of the United States Army’s massive assault on Hitler’s Europe; he had just enough time to hurry from his apartment on Belgrave Square to buy a new Burberry coat and a Dunhill silver flask. The need for bella figura had been at his core since his childhood in Budapest, where appearances and charm were means to survive.
Who didn’t trade stories about the mysterious Hungarian Jewish refugee with the mass of dark gleaming hair and velvet eyes? Child-like and beguiling, he was short and moved quickly, as if in flight, a cigarette invariably dangling from his mouth. His disguise was nonchalance. State-less, he glided through battle zones with a confection of papers. He was 30 years old and had already taken some of the most remarkable images of the century: the haggard faces of the Spanish Civil War, the plump air wardens serving tea in the London Underground during the Blitz, Italian children lost in the rubble of Naples.