CAPA, CORNELL


CAPA, CORNELL (Kornel Friedmann; 1918– ), U.S. photographer. The younger brother of the famed war photographer Robert *Capa, Cornell Capa was the son of middle-class Jewish parents, tailors, in Budapest. He achieved fame in his own right as a sensitive photographer of socially significant issues and political subjects. In addition, he founded the International Center of Photography in New York in 1974, one of the leading study and exhibition centers in the world.

At 18 he moved to Paris to assist his brother, then Andre Friedmann, who was working as a photojournalist. The brothers were remarkably close, to the point of adopting the same pseudonym, which Andre probably based on the name of the movie director Frank Capra. In 1937 Cornell Capa moved to New York to join the new Pix photo agency. He supported himself by working in the darkroom of Life magazine until his first photo-story, on the New York World's Fair, was published in the magazine Picture Post. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Capa became a staff photographer for Life magazine in 1947. His book Retarded Children Can Be Helped, published in 1957, was the product of his pioneering work on mentally retarded children, a project he began in 1954. He covered the election campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and Nelson Rockefeller. He witnessed firsthand the excitement John F. Kennedy generated, and he obtained an assignment from Life to cover his 1960 Presidential campaign. After the inauguration, he decided to assemble a book on the new administration's first 100 days, and he drafted eight other Magnum photographers to assist in the project. Capa converted Kennedy into an outsize figure who exerts a commanding presence. In one picture, a pair of godlike hands emerge from two cufflink-fastened sleeves and reach down to meet the feverish fingers of fans. Capa and his colleagues set the terms for the way subsequent presidencies would be chronicled. They developed a repertory of scenes: the candidate on the hustings, chin jutting over microphones; the sober chief conferring with his advisers; the burdened leader turning his shoulders to the camera for a moment of private contemplation

Capa made several trips to Latin America, where he chronicled the decimation of indigenous cultures. Through the 1970s he traveled back to the area to continue the tale of endangered civilizations, and he published three books about the area, including Farewell to Eden, a famous study of the Amahuaca Indians of the Amazon, published in 1964. He photographed across a wide range of social issues, particularly his Jewish heritage, which are embodied in Judaism and Six-Day War. He also chronicled American family life. In 1959 he practically moved in with the Mahaffeys of Philadelphia, then one of 3 million families who lived with aged parents, shooting the interactions among the elderly grandmother, her son and daughter-in-law and their children.

He remained a staff photographer with Life until his brother's death in 1954; Robert Capa, covering Vietnam's war against France, stepped on a land mine, becoming the first American war correspondent to die there. Cornell then joined Magnum, the photographers' cooperative, and took over two years later after the death in Suez of David (Chim) *Seymour. Capa ran the agency until 1960. He continued his relationship with Life until 1967. Among his other memorable images were a scene on the set of The Misfits with Marilyn *Monroe and Clark Gable and of a Hasidic teacher bending over three children who are studying the Torah.

In 1974 Capa founded the International Center of Photography, dedicated to the history of photojournalism, current makers and future producers, through its archives, galleries, library and school in New York City. Since its opening the center has put on more than 450 exhibitions, showing the work of more than 2,500 photographers. In some ways the center was considered an example of Capa's devotion to his brother and his legacy. Cornell Capa stepped down as director in 1994 and, despite being stricken with Parkinson's disease, continued to be influential as founding director emeritus. Over the years he won many honors, including the Honor Award of the American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1975, and produced more than a dozen books.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.