On Friday morning, May 23rd, our photography community lost on of its strongest voices. Cornell Capa was an outstanding photojournalist but will be best known among photographers young and old for his contributions as president of Magnum Photos and founder of the Internation Center for Photography, both pillars of excellence. The number of photographers who have been inspired by all that ICP offers is impossible to count. And, Cornell’s loss comes painfully close to the recent loses of his Magnum colleagues Philip Jones Griffiths and Burt Glinn.
To read the ICP remembrance click here
To see read about Cornell’s life and view the prepared slide show on Magnum’s Blog, click here.
Read the New York Times remembrance written by Philip Gefter here
Read the LA Times obituary here
Read the International Herald Tribune obituary here
To read the PDN Obituary, click here.
Read and listen to the remembrance of NPR’s All Things Considered here
When print dealer Peter Fetterman produced a catalogue of Capa’s work in 2001, it featured this piece written by the late Richard Whelan, biographer of Cornell’s older brother Robert Capa:
“During the course of his life, Cornell Capa has had three major and interrelated careers: (1) as a photographer who worked extensively for Life magazine and who has long been a member of the influential Magnum agency; (2) as the champion and editor of his brother Robert Capa¼s work; and (3) as the founder and director of the International Center of Photography in New York. After the opening of ICP in 1974, Cornell Capa had no time to pursue his own career as a photographer. Furthermore, his modesty and ethics prevented him from using his position to promote the photographs that he had made during nearly thirty years with Life and Magnum. Thus Cornell Capa the photographer has been overshadowed- indeed, almost completely hidden- by Cornell Capa the founder of ICP and by Cornell Capa the brother of Robert. Cornell Capa coined the phrase “concerned photographer” to signify a photographer who is passionately dedicated to doing work that will contribute to the understanding or the well-being of humanity- work that focuses with compassion, with intelligence, with warmth and generosity of spirit upon the human condition. Cornell Capa is himself a deeply concerned photographer. To all his work he brings his love of people and his profound concern for the plight of humanity. Robert Capa never photographed war as a dispassionate observer but rather always as a partisan. He used his camera not merely to make an accurate record but also to help the side in whose cause he believed. Cornell Capa has done the same as a photographer of peace. He has photographed, as a partisan fighting the cause of humanity, what he loves and what he hates. He often quotes the words of reformer-photographer Lewis W. Hine: “There were two things that I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that needed to be corrected. And I wanted to show the things that needed to be appreciated.” That is precisely what Cornell has dedicated his life to doing. As a teenager, Cornell wanted to become a doctor so that he could help humanity. Instead, he became a humanitarian photographer. It is very revealing that he became deeply involved in photographing the work of missionaries in Central and South America, for he himself is a kind of missionary, dedicated to advancing the cause of human decency through the power of photographic images to changed the ways in which people look at their world. Cornell Capa is above all else a photographer of people. No landscape or citiscape interests him unless it is populated. Robert Capa once remarked that the best advice he could give to other photographers was: “Like people and let them know it.” That phrase could easily serve as the motto for the entire professional career of Cornell Capa. Without any doubt the quality that characterizes and unites all of Cornell¼s work is his extraordinary rapport with the people he photographs. Like his brother, Cornell puts his subjects at ease with his friendship, his sensitivity, his sympathy, and his enthusiasm. Cornell never exploits his subjects to make a sensationalistic picture; to him a good picture is one that does justice to its subject. Similarly with John F. Kennedy, Cornell was an enthusiastic supporter. After having covered Kennedy’s campaign, he was so moved by the new president’s inaugural address that he conceived- and was able to put into immediate execution- a project for nine Magnum photographers to cover every aspect of the administration’s first 100 days. Cornell himself covered the White House, where he was warmly accepted by Kennedy and his wife. (Indeed, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis became an important early supporter of ICP.) In a completely different area of experience, Cornell’s photo-essay about an elderly woman living with her son and daughter-in-law in Philadelphia certainly derived much of its effectiveness from Cornell’s great sympathy with the old lady. His own beloved but demanding mother had lived for many years with him and his wife, Edie, and he was thus well aware of the difficulties on both sides of such a situation. When Camera magazine asked Cornell in 1963 to make a selection of his own photographs for publication, he replied, “Single photographs are not what I do best. My most effective work is groups of photographs which hand together and tell stories. My pictures are the words which make up sentences which in turn form the story… I hope that as often as possible my pictures may have feeling, composition, and sometimes beauty- but my preoccupation is with the story and not with attaining a fine-art level in the individual pictures.” Nevertheless, although Cornell nearly always set out to shoot groups of pictures that would cohere to form a factual and revealing narrative, the fact remains that within most of his photo-essays certain pictures stand out so strongly- because of the feelings that they capture, because of the effectiveness of their composition, and because of the beauty of the impact of the subject as seen and recorded on film by the photographer- that they sum up the entire story and even transcend it. They remain imbued with the very essence of the specific situation or person that they portray, and yet they simultaneously resonate with universal human experience. In other words, they are art. Even in isolation they speak whole sentences, and indeed whole volumes. They stand very solidly on their own and engrave themselves permanently upon the memory. © Richard Whelan, 2001. All rights reserved. From to the book, Cornell Capa, published by The Peter Fetterman Gallery, September 1st, 2001″