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Cornell Capa

(1918 - 2008)


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Cornell Capa was born Cornell Friedmann in 1918 into a Jewish family from Budapest. As a teenager, he had aspirations to become a doctor, for the sole purpose of helping people, hut eventually decided that he could reach more people and have greater influence through photography.

At the age of 18 he moved to Paris where his brother Andre Friedmann (Robert Capa) was working as a photojournalist. He worked as his brother's printer for a year before moving on to New York in 1937 to join the new Pix photo agency. By 1938 he was supporting himself by working in the Life magazine darkroom, until his first photo-story on the New York Worlds Fair was published in Picture Post. After service in the U.S. Air Force, Capa became a LIFE staff photographer in 1946. He continued to work for LIFE until his brother's tragic death in 1954, when he joined Magnum. In 1956, after David “Chim” Seymour's death in Suez, Capa took over as the president of Magnum — a post he held until 1960.

As a photographer, Capa has been particularly sensitive and keen when covering topics of social significance or politics. When he was working for LIFE he made the first of many trips to Latin America where he chronicled the decimation of indigenous cultures. Through the 1970s he traveled hack to the area on several occasions to continue the tales of snuffed cultures. His efforts were rewarded in three hooks, among them the subsequently famous 1964 Farewell to Eden, a study of the Amahuaca Indians of the Amazon.

Capa was involved in a broad range of social issues, such as old age in America and studied his own Jewish heritage through classic reportage, including a story on the Six-Day War. His 1957 book, Retarded Children Can Be Helped, was the product of his pioneering study of mentally retarded children, a project he started in 1954. He also covered the electoral campaigns of John and Robert Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Nelson Rockefeller. In the early 1970s, Capa coined the phrase "Concerned Photographer" to define “a photographer who is passionately dedicated to doing work that will contribute to the understanding or the well-being of humanity.”

In 1974, Cornell Capa founded the International Center of Photography. Devoted to the practitioners and principles that define “Concerned Photography,” the ICP is a fountain dedicated to the history of photojournalism, current makers and future producers through its archives, galleries, library and school. The lCP pays homage to Cornell Capa's brother Robert Capa, and colleagues David “Chim” Seymour and Werner Bischof by constantly bringing humanitarian documentary work to the public realm. Since its opening on Fifth Avenue in New York, the Center has had more than 450 exhibitions, exhibiting more than 2,500 photographers. Capa is now the Founding Director Emeritus of the institution. Cornell Capa's numerous awards include the Honor Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers (1975), Leica Medal of Excellence (1986), Peace and Culture Award, Sokka Gakkai International, Japan (1990), the Order of the Arts and Letters, France (1991), The Distinguished Career in Photography Award from the Friends of Photography (1995), a Honorary Membership from the ASMP (1995), and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Photography from the Aperture Foundation (1999).


Sources: American Jewish Historical Society Newsletter Fall/Winter 2003

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