“Did they take care of my camera?” -Gerda Taro
Creating an American photojournalism icon
Taro was born Gerda Pohorylle. She was arrested in 1933 for passing out anti-Nazi flyers. She left Germany and her family behind, never to see them again.
She met Endre Freidmann in 1934 when she accompanied a young Swiss refugee, Ruth Cerf whom the Hungarian photojournalist had asked to model for him in a Paris park. Cerf, unsure of the photographer’s intentions asked Pohorylle to come along. This became the beginning of a complex relationship with Pohorylle learning photography from Freidmann. The pair became lovers and inventors.
During that time it was difficult for foreign photographers to sell their work to the French press. Jane Rogoyska, said that Pohorylle and the younger Freidmann, “They came up with this crazy idea of inventing a very successful, wealthy American photographer who had never been to Europe.”
Creating Robert Capa
They explained to the French papers that the photographer Robert Capa had only just arrived and that was why no one in Paris had heard of him. “He was going to have this name that sounded a little bit sort of international and glamorous, so they called him Robert Capa,” Rogoyska says.
“Their meeting somehow set off a wonderful combination of talents,” says Rogoyska. “He taught her photography and she taught him how to make the best of himself.”
With Freidmann now called Robert Capa, Gerda Pohorylle became Gerda Taro. The couple went off to become the most famous photographers covering the Spanish civil war that would take Taro’s life. Most of Taro’s photographs are credited to Robert Capa.
Changing the nature of war photography
Together, Taro and Capa changed how wars were covered photographically. Capa’s quote “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” became the way the couple worked. Two weeks after the Spanish civil war started in 1936, the couple saw the opportunity to cement their stature as photojournalists. They wanted to be part of the struggle against fascism. They arrived in Barcelona, photographing soldiers preparing to go to the front. They traveled hundreds of kilometers through territory held by the Republicans to the front-line near Cordoba.
Gerda Taro evolves
French publications wanted to print photos that supported the Republican cause. The Capa photos were welcomed enthusiastically. During this time, Gerda Taro began to develop her own style and establish herself as a photographer in her own right according to Rogoyska.
During a critical part of the Spanish civil war, General Franco’s forces had just retaken a town west of Madrid. The Republicans were retreating under heavy fire from Franco’s army. Taro kept taking photographs. She was huddled in the trenches with Republican soldiers near Brunete. She was to return to France the next day, but she had run out of film so she headed to a nearby town. According to Rogoyska Tara was thrilled saying, “She was elated, saying ‘I’ve got these fantastic photographs, I’ve got champagne, we’re going to have a party!'”
Fatal encounter with a tank
She hitched a ride on the running board of a general’s car being used to carry wounded soldiers from the front. As they were strafed by German planes supporting Franco’s troops, she was knocked off of the car’s running board and seriously wounded in the stomach by an out of control Republican tank near Villanueva de la Cañada. She was alive and conscious when she got to the British hospital in El Escorial. She was operated on by Dr. Douglas Jolly, a surgeon from New Zealand. She died during the night. Witness reported her face was covered in blood.
The photograph below is believed to show Gerda Taro being treated by Dr. Janos Kiszely, a volunteer from Hungary. It’s from his son, John Kiszely who says it has the inscription “Brunete Front, June 1937 (in Torrelodones) Mrs. Frank Capa = of Ce Soire of Paris, killed at Brunete.” on the back.
Gerda Taro was 26 years old.
Robert Capa never got over Greda’s death. Jane Rogoyska author of ‘Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa,’ said, “He blamed himself for not being there – he always felt that he had this role of a protector towards her because he felt that she would take too many risks,”