March 2014

Arts & Letters

Jane Rogoyska’s ‘Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa’

By Kevin Rabalais
Jonathan Cape; $79.95

From the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War came rumours of a photographer in high heels who paraded her beauty for the morale of Loyalist soldiers. No such images survive, but the ones that do capture the spirit and allure of the woman who would become a symbol of the war.

Widely considered to be the first female photographer to die in battle, Taro was hailed as a modern Joan of Arc. In the years before her death in 1937, aged 26, her stature, hair colour and temperament had earnt her another title, “the Little Red Fox”. Born Gerta Pohorylle in 1910, the left-wing German Jew moved to Paris in her 20s, where she met an unkempt and struggling Hungarian photographer several years her junior. André Friedmann was also Jewish and of a similar political persuasion. The two became friends and, eventually, lovers.

In the elegant and well-researched Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa, Jane Rogoyska details how Pohorylle, with her keen eye and managerial nature, remade herself and Friedmann. She emerged as Gerda Taro, a name easier to pronounce and proximate to Greta Garbo. Upon Friedmann, she bestowed an identity now synonymous with reportage: Robert Capa.

“Robert Capa was to be a rich American photographer, highly successful in the States, recently arrived in Europe,” Rogoyska writes. “Importantly, Capa – being such a big cheese – would accept nothing less than three times the going rate for his work.” Capa went on to cover five wars and co-found the influential Magnum Photos agency before his death in 1954. Taro’s legacy has proven less certain – partly because many of her photographs were incorrectly attributed to Capa. “Her early death, the overshadowing of the Spanish Civil War by the Second World War, and her connection with communism all contributed to her obscurity,” observes Rogoyska in the most extensive account of Taro’s life available in English. The book also includes more than 50 of Taro’s photographs, many of them from negatives discovered in 2007 in long-lost, tattered boxes known as the Mexican Suitcase. The re-emergence of these negatives has enabled researchers to more clearly distinguish Capa’s and Taro’s work and better understand Taro’s importance in the development of photojournalism.

Capa and Taro began their careers in the 1930s, when the introduction of handheld cameras, including the 35-mm Leica, was changing the ways in which photographers covered battle. Rogoyska balances this evolution with historical and technical aspects of the Spanish Civil War. She also chronicles a love affair, one played out during penniless days in Paris and against the backdrop of battle, rendering it as skilfully as a seasoned novelist.

Kevin Rabalais

Kevin Rabalais is the author of The Landscape of Desire.

March 2014

From the front page

Image of Satu Vänskä, Australian Chamber Orchestra

Fermata: Musical performance in lockdown

What becomes of the communion of classical musicians, composers and audiences during social isolation?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through


In This Issue

Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott. © Jason Edwards / Newspix

The conservative crusade against the ABC

Why do Andrew Bolt and company love to hate the national broadcaster?

The last of the Panamanian golden frogs are to be found in a “frog hotel” in El Valle de Anton. Photo: Brian Gratwicke

Stories of extinction

Andrew Glikson’s ‘Evolution of the Atmosphere’, Elizabeth Kolbert’s ‘The Sixth Extinction’, Errol Fuller’s ‘Lost Animals’ and Clifford Frith’s ‘The Woodhen’

© Peter E Barnes

Hi-tech architecture in Adelaide

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

The Tasmanian election

The ALP, the Libs, the Greens, the split


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘Contempt’

The death of cool: Michel Piccoli, 1925–2020

Re-watching the films of the most successful screen actor of the 20th century

Image of Ziggy Ramo

The heat of a moment: Ziggy Ramo’s ‘Black Thoughts’

A debut hip-hop album that calls for a reckoning with Indigenous sovereignty and invites the listener to respond

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture


More in Noted

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette)

The Palestinian author’s haunting novel about an atrocity committed by Israeli soldiers in 1949

‘The Rain Heron’ by Robbie Arnott

An unsettling near-future tale of soldiers hunting a mythic bird by “the Tasmanian Wordsworth”

Cover of ‘The Trials of Portnoy’

‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

Cover of ‘The End of October’

‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic


Read on

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom


×
×