Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gerda Taro

 Gerda Taro, A woman in Barcelona training for the Republican militia, August 1936

Gerda Taro (1910-1937) was born Gerda Pohorylle, daughter of a liberal Jewish family in Stuttgart, Germany. The family moved to Leipzig when Gerda was nineteen, where the growing strength of the National Socialists and a new circle of friends drew her into involvement in local leftist organizations. In 1933, she was arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest campaign. Eventually, the entire Pohorylle family was forced to leave Nazi Germany toward different destinations. Taro, who left for Paris,  would not see her family again.

 Anom., Gerda Taro and Robert Capa in Paris, 1936

After a year in Paris spent struggling for work, Gerda met Hungarian photographer André Friedmann, who would later change his name to Robert Capa. A romance developed between Gerda and André, and Gerda increasingly managed the business side of André’s work, while beginning to experiment with taking her own photographs. In February of 1936, she obtained her first press card. Gerda and André, frustrated with their lack of success selling his stories, constructed a fictional American photographer named Robert Capa, under whose identity they might fare better than as one of many Eastern European Jewish émigrés in Paris. Gerda, in turn, changed her last name to Taro, taken from the Japanese artist Taro Okamoto

Gerda Taro, Onboard the Jaime I, "The Spanish Battleship Potemkin", Almería, 1937

When the Spanish Civil War broke out on July 17, 1936, Taro and Capa immediately arranged to go to Barcelona. They photographed side-by-side, often recording the same scenes. Their pictures from this period are easily distinguishable because they used cameras that produced negatives with different proportions; Taro the square-format Rollei, and Capa the rectangular Leica. From the outset, the photographic team of Taro and Capa published in magazines with established reputations like Vu in France or the Züricher Illustrierte in Switzerland. 

Gerda Taro, Boy in the uniform of the Iberian Anarchist Federation, 1936

Taro and Capa returned to Paris for the fall and early winter, and made a second trip to Spain in February of 1937. Capa remained in Spain only briefly, returning to Paris at the end of the month, while Taro stayed on. It appears that their romance had cooled by this point, and Taro was distinguishing herself with a successful independent career in the French leftist press. Some of Taro’s most arresting photographs were taken in the spring of 1937, in a hospital and morgue following the bombing of Valencia. Taro seems to have predated Capa’s famous assertion that “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” with her unflinching images of the civilian casualties of the war.

Gerda Taro, Republican soldiers, Battle of Brunete, July 1937

In July 1937, Taro went to Brunete, outside of the capital, to cover fighting for Ce Soir. For two weeks, Taro photographed the battle for the city, and her images were widely reproduced, in part because they demonstrated that the Republicans were holding the Brunete, despite General Franco's troops claim to the contrary. On July 25, as the Republican position faltered, Taro found herself in the midst of a hasty retreat. She jumped on the running-board of a car transporting casualties. A tank sideswiped the car, knocking Taro to the ground. She died the next day. 

 Anom., Gerda Taro at Brunete, 1937

Due to her political commitment, Taro had become an anti-fascist figure. On August 1, on what would have been her 27th birthday, the French Communist Party gave her a grand funeral in Paris, which was attended by tens of thousands. She was buried her at Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Alberto Giacometti created a monument for her grave. You can see more photos of Gerda Taro in a slide show of the New York Times.

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