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Conflict

The Indochina War: Robert Capa’s Final Conflict

Robert Capa’s photographs from the conflict in Southeast Asia that would be his final assignment

Robert Capa

Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Motorcyclists and women walking on the road from Nam Dinh to Thai Binh. Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Near Namdinh, Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography General Cogny visits the Foreign Legion at Nam Dinh. Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A Vietnamese guard attached to the French Allied Command, at his post on a military base during the first Indo-Chinese War. Nam Dinh, Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography French soldiers on the road from Namdinh to Thaibinh. Indochina. May 25, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Vietnamese soldiers advancing through a rice field along the road from Namdinh to Thaibinh. Indochina. May 25, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French military halftrack and civilians on the road from Nam Dinh to Thái Bình. Vietnam, Indochina. May 25, 1954 © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French guard post. West of Namdinh, May 24, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French soldier West of Namdinh. Indochina. May 24, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French soldier wounded at Luang Prabang, during the first Indo-Chinese War, being carried to an army helicopter that will take him to Hanoi. Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A wounded French soldier released by the Viet Minh after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Luang Prabang, Laos. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography French soldiers released by the Viet Minh after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Luang Prabang, Laos. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French officer, on the day of General Cogny's visit to French troops, during the first Indo-Chinese War. Nam Dinh, Indochina. May, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French airbase during the first Indo-Chinese War. Nam Dinh, Indochina. 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography A French bargeman with Vietnamese recruits attached to the French Allied Command. Indochina. 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Members of the French Foreign Legion watching children cross the street. Hanoi, Indochina. May 23, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography French Soldiers waiting for children to cross the road. Hanoi, Indochina. May 23, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Hanoi, Indochina. May 23, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography French and Vietnamese, killed during a battle, lie next to each other in a military cemetery. Namdinh, Indochina. May 21, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography The Namdinh Military cemetery. Indochina. May 21st, 1954. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos

December 19, 2016, marks 70 years since the start of the Indochina war, which Magnum co-founder Robert Capa would eventually lose his life photographing.

After World War II France reinstalled its colonial government in Indochina (after the Japanese invasion during the war). In 1946 a Vietnamese independence movement, led by communist Ho Chi Minh, started to fight against French troops to gain control of northern Vietnam. On May 7th, 1954, the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. The armistice, signed in Geneva, divided Vietnam into a “Democratic Republic” in the North, under communist rule, and the “State of Vietnam” in the South, under French rule.

The war was partly documented by Robert Capa in 1954, who had traveled to Japan for a Magnum exhibition. While he was in the area, LIFE magazine gave him an assignment to cover the conflict in Southeast Asia, along with two journalists, John Mecklin and Jim Lucas. The regiment was passing through a dangerous area under fire when Capa left his Jeep and went up the road to photograph the advance. It was there that he stepped on a landmine. He was 41 years old when he died.

Reflecting on his death in 2013, legendary photo editor and friend of Robert Capa, John Morris, said, “He left behind a thermos of cognac, a few good suits, a bereaved world, and his pictures, among them some of the greatest recorded moments of modern history.”