The above picture was sent by Kinga a few minutes ago from London, accompanied by the following letter.
Capa lived just as an adventurous life as Essad Bey, although without any Oriental scenery. Understandably, he was the favorite of our professor of photo history, he had lots of stories about him, but this is the only one I remember, perhaps because it is connected with a specific image.
The photo was made during the Normandy landings where Capa was present as a LIFE correspondent, after he fled the German occupation of Paris to New York. As it is well known, they somehow managed to organize the landing just in front of a German fort, so the soldiers, after leaving the troop ship, had to advance about 100 meters in waist-deep cold water under the machine gun fire of the enemy to reach the mainland. Although Capa had reported from the Spanish Civil War, this terrible massacre, now he remembered feeling “a new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair, and twisting my face”.
He took photos in the cover of a steel obstacle. When both cameras ran out of film and he managed to control the trembling of his hands, he refilled one of them. By the time he finished this roll as well, he was completely paralyzed with fear, and just waited for a while. Finally he caught sight of another troop ship arriving, and he went to it without thinking, breaking away from this horror.
In London, after the development the laboratory assistant dried the films on a too high temperature. They melted, and from the three rolls, that is 108 pictures, there remained only eleven. The miracle of all is that these eleven – blurred or melted – pictures rendered so perfectly the surreal horror of that day that they, but especially this particular one, have become a symbol of the Normandy landings, a legend. *
I was browsing in your blog, and saw that you’ve uploaded quite a lot of pictures by Robert Capa. I recalled this story, and I looked for this picture. I was also curious whether the story was an urban legend, so I have checked it but no, it really happened so. They recount it in many places, with reference to Capa’s own book (Slightly Out of Focus, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1947.)
And I have noticed by chance that the anniversary of the Normandy landings happened to be yesterday. The sixty-seventh one.