American, b. (Hungary) 1918
We all remember famous portraits such as the one of Marilyn Monroe on the set of the film The Misfits, the Hasidic teacher bending over three children who study the Torah, or John F. Kennedy at his first cabinet meeting, seen from the back, his hair's outline drawn like a Chinese shadow.
These were the work of Cornell Capa, born Cornell Friedmann at the end of World War I in a Jewish family from Budapest . In 1936 he moved to Paris where his brother Andre Friedmann (Robert Capa) was working as a photojournalist. As a teenager, Cornell had wanted to become a doctor but now he decided he could help people by becoming a photographer. Through 1936 he worked as his brother's printer then moved on to New York the next year to join the new Pix photo agency. In l938 he supported himself by working in the Life darkroom, until his first photo-story on the New York World Fair was published in Picture Post.
After service in the US Air Force Cornell became a Life staff photographer in 1946 until his brother's tragic death in 1954: he decided to join Magnum to help the organization in crisis.
While working for Life, Cornell Capa made the first of several Latin American trips that continued through the 1970s and culminated in three books, among them the famous 1964 Farewell to Eden, a study on the destruction of indigenous cultures such as the Amahuaca Indians in the Amazon.
In 1954 Cornell Capa made an empathetic, pioneering study of mentally retarded children,which led to his 1957 book Retarded Children Can Be Helped. He was also involved in other social issues such as old age in America and studied his own tradition in classic reportages such as Judaism and another on the Six-Day War. After David "Chim" Seymour's death in Suez in 1956, Capa took over as Magnum president until 1960.
Throughout his life as a photographer, Cornell Capa has been a skillful reporter on politics and business, covering, among others, the electoral campaigns of John and Robert Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Nelson Rockefeller. His 1969 story, New Breed on Wall Street, was a landmark study of a generation of ruthless, hard-working young entrepreneurs keen on making money and spending it fast.
Cornell Capa always had a special talent for phrasing important concepts: he coined the phrase "Concerned Photographer" in the early 1970s, meaning a photographer who is passionately dedicated to doing work that will contribute to the understanding or the well-being of humanity, and in the 1960s proposed to businesses the concept of "annual reports," thus creating a flurry of commercial outlets for Magnum photographers which helped compensate for poorly paid magazine assignments.
In the last two decades Cornell Capa has dedicated most of his considerable energy to founding and directing the influential International Center of Photography in New York City, devoted to the cause of photojournalism and hosting his brother Robert Capa's archives. He curated many landmarks exhibits at ICP, among them Behind the Great Wall: 100 Years of China in Photographs, and Photography of the Fifties. He is now the Founding Director Emeritus of that institution.
Cornell Capa's numerous awards include the Honor Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers (1975). Leica Medal of Excellence (1986), Peace and Culture Award, Sokka Gakkai International, Japan (1990), the Order of the Arts and Letters, France (1991), The Distinguished Career in Photography Award from the Friends of Photography (1995), a Honorary Membership from the ASMP (1995)and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Photography from the Aperture Foundation (1999).
The Savage My Kinsman, 1961
Let Us Begin, 1961
Farewell to Paradise, 1964
Emerging Decade, 1966
Stevenson's Public Years, 1966
The Andean Republics, 1966
The Concerned Photographer, 1968
Israel, the Reality, 1969
Jerusalem, City of Mankind, 1974
Margin of Life, 1974
Cornell Capa, 1983
Capa & Capa: Brothers in Photography, 1990
Cornell Capa: Photographs, 1992