Birth Date: August 01, 1910
Date of Death: July 26, 1937
Place of Birth: Stuttgart, Germany
Place of Death: El Escorial, Spain
Nationality: German
Occupation/Field of Study First female war photographer who died while covering combat and creator of one of the most moving studies ever made of people in war.

 

KEYWORDS: 20th century, women artists, female war photographer.

SHE THOUGHT IT

Gerda Taro was a German war photographer who worked on the side of her Hungarian partner Robert Capa at the front of the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century. She captured moments of fights, explosions, and battlefields but especially set her focus on the innocent people who suffered the most – women, children and old people. Many of her photos got lost since her family died in the Holocaust and there were no other relatives left, but many photos were also published under the name of her boyfriend Robert Capa, who is until today still known as the best war photographer in history3. Gerda Taro was a very attractive woman who was only a little over five feet tall but much admired for her chic clothes and makeup1 (p. 43). The Republican troops called her “La Pequeña Rubia”, which means the little blonde but she was also known to be an intelligent and well-read woman1 (p. 43). Gerda Taro died only in the age of 26 at the front and even though she was one of the first female war photographer and the first one to be killed in combat, she has remained mostly unknown until today.

 

SHORT BIOGRAPHY

In 1910 Gerda Taro was born under the name of Gerda Pohorylle into a middle-class Jewish-Polish family in Stuttgart in Germany. Due to the rising power of Adolf Hitler Gerda and her family had to move to Leipzig in 1929 where she soon got involved in local leftist organisations. Soon after, in 1933, she got arrested for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda but could escape a year later and flee to Paris, where she met her future boyfriend and colleague Robert Capa. The Hungarian photo journalist Robert Capa was originally called Endre Friedmann but Gerda got the idea to adopt a shorter more “American sounding” name for both of them in order to sell more photographs1 (p. 43). Her new surname was chosen after the avant-garde Japanese artist Taro Okamoto4. Robert Capa was like her also a Jewish leftist and a stateless exile. By the time Gerda met Robert she knew nothing about photography as she only worked as a part time secretary before, but since she helped him to get jobs he trained her in turn how to use a Leica2 (p. 57). Soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the couple moved to Barcelona and started taking photographs for the French leftist press on most of the war fronts, from Aragón, Toledo to Córdoba. It was during the same time when Gerda Taro refused Robert Capa`s marriage proposal even though she had planned to travel to China with him3. On the afternoon of the 25th of July in 1937, Gerda Taro was shooting the battle of Brunete, west of Madrid. General Walter, the senior commander in the field, warned her to get away fast, because he could not guarantee for her safety in this battle, but Gerda refused to leave and continued shooting1 (p. 43). According to a witness she was smiling during the heat and taking photo after photo, which she said were her “best pictures yet”1 (p. 41). On her way back to her villa in Madrid, Gerda Taro got fatally injured by a Republican tank that struck the car in which she was standing on the running board, and crushed her abdomen. She was still conscious when she was taken to the hospital where she soon died from her injuries1 (p. 41). Her photographs of the battle were never to be found since her equipment disappeared soon after the collision with the tank1 (p. 43). Several sources claim that the collision was no accident but planned. Some say she was murdered due to her accurate recordings of what really had happened during the battle that day and her general lack of loyalty to Moscow. Ten thousands of people attended her funeral in Paris on August the 1st in 1937, which would have been her 27th birthday. Today Gerda Taro is recognised as the first female war photographer in history2 (p. 58) and as the first one to die in combat4.

 

SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION

Gerda Taro was working together with her boyfriend Robert Capa who trained her in photography while she, as his manager, suggested to change their names in order to get more jobs2 (p.57). Nevertheless it was Gerda Taro’s own will to become a photographer, and she was from the beginning intending on becoming a photographer in her own right3. As Capa`s manager Gerda taught him how to dress for jobs, evaluated his ideas for photo stories and made him stick to deadlines4 (p. 56). The couple’s work appeared in many international famous news magazines. Nevertheless it was only Robert Capa who became really famous since many of their photos were only printed with his name3. His main success was one photograph he took on the Córdoba front of a Republican militiaman falling dead while he was hit by a bullet. Several critics claim that the photo was staged and it was only a training of the soldiers. The rumours did not however had any effect on his reputation of being the best war photographer in history. Gerda Taro on the other hand remained mostly unknown even though the image of the fallen soldier also appeared in one of her own photos3. In order to be more recognised as an independent photographer, Gerda soon started to work more apart from Robert Capa which caused problems in their relationship, especially since she refused to marry him4. He claimed until his death to never have had a more deep relationship to any other woman than Gerda Taro3.

 

SHE SAID IT

Shortly before her death: “When you think of all the fine people we both know who have been killed even in one offensive, you get an absurd feeling that somehow it’s unfair still to be alive.”

cited in Stummer, Robin (13 Oct. 2008), “Accidental heroine”, New Statesman, Vol. 137, Issue 4918, p. 43.

 

Shortly before her death: “I’ve got these fantastic photographs, I’ve got champagne, we’re going to have a party.”

cited in Gee, Alison (2013): Gerda Taro: The forgotten photojournalist killed in action, BBC World Service, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25108104, (last accessed 08 Jan 2018).

 

“If only the times were not so bad […] But what can you do: You laugh!” (My translation)

cited in Coen, Amrai (2014): Das Auge der Freiheit, http://www.zeit.de/2014/05/gerda-taro-kriegsfotografin, (last accessed 08 Jan 2018).

 

THEY SAID IT

“We all loved Gerda very much… Gerda was petite with the charm and beauty of a child. This little girl was brave and the Division admired her for that.”

cited in Gee, Alison (2013): Gerda Taro: The forgotten photojournalist killed in action, BBC World Service, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25108104, (last accessed 08 Jan 2018).

 

“I think it’s really quite tragic that beyond dying so young, we didn’t have an opportunity to see how her work as a photographer would develop.”

cited in Gee, Alison (2013): Gerda Taro: The forgotten photojournalist killed in action, BBC World Service, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25108104, (last accessed 08 Jan 2018).

 

Herbert Matthews: “What was at stake here, was right, justice, morality and decency.“ (My translation)

cited in Lange-Tetzlaff, Monika (2016): Mit der Kamera als Waffe – Das kurze Leben der Gerda Taro, neobooks.

 

 

PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS

Gerda Taro Platz in Stuttgart, Germany.

 

 

INTERTEXTUAL MATERIALS

Novel about Gerda Taro and Robert Capa: Fortes, Susana (2011): Waiting for Robert Capa. A Novel, Harper Perennial.

Photo exhibition: Bilder der Solidarität. Ausstellung in Erinnerung an den Spanischen Bürgerkrieg und die Fotojournalistin Gerda Taro, Gerhard Hauptmann Haus, Düsseldorf, Germany, http://www.lokalkompass.de/duesseldorf/kultur/bilder-der-solidaritaet-ausstellung-in-erinnerung-an-den-spanischen-buergerkrieg-und-die-fotojournalistin-gerda-taro-d744547.html.

Photo exhibition: Gerda Taro, International Center of Photography, Manhattan, 2007-2008, https://www.icp.org/exhibitions/gerda-taro.

Photo exhibition: Krieg im Fokus, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart, 2010, https://www.kunstmuseum-stuttgart.de/index.php?site=Ausstellungen;Archiv&id=37&PHPSESSID=990ce0cef528f01c61ba8b8b66e079ec.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (BY THE AUTHOR):

François Maspero (2006), L’Ombre d’une photographe. Gerda Taro. Seuil, Paris.

Irme Schaber (2013), Gerda Taro, Fotoreporterin. Mit Robert Capa im spanischen Bürgerkrieg. Jonas Verlag, Marbug, Germany.

Sougez, Marie-Loup/Albert-Louis Deschamps (2003): Fotógrafo en la Guerra Civil Espanola. Junta de Castilla y Léon, Salamanca.

Rogoyska, Jane (2013): Gerda Taro. Inventing Robert Capa, Random House UK.

FURTHER READING:

 

WORKS CITED

  1. Stummer, Robin (2008): Accidental heroine, in: New Statesman; 10/13/2008, Vol. 137 Issue 4918.
  2. Lost & Found” (Winter 2011), MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History, Vol. 23 Issue 2, p.56-65.
  3. Linfield, Susie (Dec. 2007): “Dark Rooms”, The Nation.
  4. Whelan, Richard (Fall 2003): “Gerda Taro – Heroic Witness, Aperture, No. 172, p. 52-65.

 

Author:
Release Date: