Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Perhaps you've seen Saving Private Ryan, the film by Steven Spielberg, which opens with what feels like very real footage of landing at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 - now known as D-Day. He has said publicly that without the photos of Robert Capa, he could not have made that movie. This book is the story of the man behind the only camera to actually reach the beach on D-Day, Robert Capa.

The book opens with a 55-page graphic novel retelling of Capa's career as a photojournalist written by Jean-David Morvan and illustrated by Séverine Tréfouël. It includes a four-page fold-out spread of what the invasion looked like from the shore. It's an engrossing, gritty telling of the first wave of the beach landing, as Capa chose to go ashore with Company E (sometimes called Easy Company), one of the first companies to put ashore, armed only with a camera. Capa's surviving D-Day shots follow the graphic novel, and are themselves followed by three separate essays: "The man who invented himself", a bio of Capa; "The eye of June 6, 1944", about Capa's life during D-Day; "In the viewfinder", about Capa as a photographer; and "A face (lost) in the waves", about the identity of the man in Capa's most iconic image from June 6th, 1944. All of the additional essays include additional Capa photographs, and were written by Bernard Lebrun. Translation into the English was done by Edward Gauvin.

The following spread is about the taking of the photo that became known as "The Face in the Surf":

And here's a link to that photo: The Face in the Surf, copyright Robert Capa, which is featured on the book cover (seen above).

While ashore on D-Day, Capa shot four rolls of film, then returned to the ship. Sadly, most of his film was ruined by an attempt at hasty processing by Life Magazine, for whom he worked. Only ten negatives were usable despite the damage.

Three other photographers were part of the press corps that landed that day, but only Capa went ashore. A second photographer sent his film back on a boat, but the film was subsequently lost. The photos from the other two photographers showed the invasion from the distance, as they had been taken from off-shore ships.

It was Capa's up-close photos - blurred and sometimes hazy - that brought the invasion home for many people, and resulted in some of the most iconic imagery. This book, through its combined story-telling methodologies, makes these images accessible today in a powerful and gripping way.

My thanks to the folks at First Second for the review copy of this wonderful book.

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