Photography Masters - Gerda Taro
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - Gerda Taro

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

She was a trailblazing war photographer. She was the first female photographer to be killed at the age of 27 in the frontline, covering the Spanish Civil War in 1937. She had a special relationship with the legendary war photographer, Robert Capa, whom she assisted; and later became independent as they both worked together as war photographers. She was Gerda Taro, born in 1910 in Germany, dying in 1937 when she jumped onto the running boards of a car transporting wounded soldiers, but it collided with an out-of-control tank and she was crushed succumbing in the hospital. Gerda Taro’s photographs from that day were never found.

It was only years later that Taro was fully-appreciated as a photojournalist in her own right. And 70 years after her death, in 2007 the International Center of Photography in New York opened the first retrospective of Taro’s work.

At the age of 23, Taro was arrested while distributing anti-Nazi leaflets around Leipzig. Soon after, she fled to France being one of the thousands of exiles seeking refuge in the country. It was in Paris, that she met another Hungarian migrant, and budding photographer, Robert Capa. After a series of romantic episodes befitting a Hollywood movie, Taro was fascinated by his profession and, on seeing Capa’s work, was convinced of his brilliance.

Barcelona at the outbreak of war, 1936. The focal point of interest (two boys) are placed against a clear sky (highlight area) so that they stand out. The barricades on which they’re standing communicates the situation and environment they are in.
Barcelona at the outbreak of war, 1936. The focal point of interest (two boys) are placed against a clear sky (highlight area) so that they stand out. The barricades on which they’re standing communicates the situation and environment they are in.

She soon developed an interest in photography and had become an accredited member of the press; and both Capa and Taro travelled to Spain to cover the resistance to General Franco’s fascist rebellion, and started documenting it. After initially learning the ropes from Capa she soon branched out on her own, emerging as one of the world’s first female war photographer.

Taro intensely felt the plight of Spanish fighting for liberty which was starkly evident in her work. In May 1937, Taro’s photographs captured the terrified civilian population who endured the nightly bombings. Soon after, she documented the biggest republican offensive yet: The Battle of Brunete; where she was in the centre of the conflict. The experience sealed her reputation as a photojournalist but it also marked the end of her remarkable career.

Although the work of Capa has overshadowed Taro's photographs of the Spanish Civil War, her pictures are effective portrayals of individuals at war. Their graphic simplicity and emotional power make her small body of work a memorable chronicle of a complex war.

Refugees from Malaga in Almeria, 1937. In this photograph the direction in which the eyes of the refugees are pointing creates sense of tension. The two elderly women, the baby and the man are looking towards the right whereas the two other kids are looking towards the left. In the center there is a boy looking directly into the camera which catches the viewer off guard. The posture of the man on the right acts as a guiding curve towards the center of the frame.
Refugees from Malaga in Almeria, 1937. In this photograph the direction in which the eyes of the refugees are pointing creates sense of tension. The two elderly women, the baby and the man are looking towards the right whereas the two other kids are looking towards the left. In the center there is a boy looking directly into the camera which catches the viewer off guard. The posture of the man on the right acts as a guiding curve towards the center of the frame.

It was not just soldiers; Taro’s images movingly express concern for how war affects women and children too. Taro also captured moments of joyful vivacity even in dark times, which was typical of her dynamic nature.

In 2007, the International Center of Photography opened the first major US exhibition of Taro's photographs. A year later the city of Stuttgart named a square after Taro. The square was redesigned in 2014, to include 9 metal plates, each with one letter of her name cut out, visible from a distance. Four years ago, an open-air display of Taro's Spanish Civil War photographs was part of the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig.

The novel, Waiting for Robert Capa, by Susana Fortes (2011 – English translation by Adriana V. López), is a fictionalized account of the life of Taro and Capa. The documentary film, The Mexican Suitcase (2011), tells the story of a suitcase of 4,500 lost negatives taken by Taro, Capa and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War. The suitcase, and the negatives, are currently housed at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Republican soldiers on the Segovia front, 1937. This photo captures the state of soldiers during the war. Despite getting injured they’re still expected to fight till the very end. The soldier on the right is looking towards the injured soldier further drawing the viewer’s eyes towards the latter.
Republican soldiers on the Segovia front, 1937. This photo captures the state of soldiers during the war. Despite getting injured they’re still expected to fight till the very end. The soldier on the right is looking towards the injured soldier further drawing the viewer’s eyes towards the latter.

In 2017 the City Council of Madrid decided to name a street in the city Calle Gerda Taro (Gerda Taro Street); in 2018, Leipzig named a new gymnasium after Taro--it is adjacent to a permanent exhibition of her photographs.

On August 1, 2018 Google Doodle had a dedication for Taro on her 108th birthday with the message: ’Here’s to Gerda Taro, who had a photographer’s eye, a journalist’s soul, and a warrior’s courage.’

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Siddharth Kumar is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.

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