“Amid the several million or so souls that inhabit this city, what a happy accident it is, I consider, what an obliterating coincidence that we have found each other. What have I done to deserve this, to be so singled out?” – Seducing Ingrid Bergman p96
I discovered the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman (which I talk about in the video above) after reading this article about war photographer Robert Capa. The article included the heartbreaking story of how most of the negatives for the photographs Capa took during the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944 were destroyed before a single print was made, due to a mistake in the London photo lab of Life Magazine. I cannot imagine Capa’s frustration at this after putting his life in danger and witnessing such bloodshed. It makes the few surviving iconic images all the more precious (their appears to be a difference of opinion as to whether there were 10 or 11 of them, depending on where you read about it!)
I wanted to know more about this good looking Hungarian who lived life on the edge, found solace in women and drink and put himself in enormous danger so the world could witness global conflict, only to die after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam at the age of 40.
What a gift then to find a highly-praised novel in which Capa himself is one of the main characters. In Paris for the city’s liberation at the end of World War Two, Capa is at a bit of a loss. What does a war photographer do now that peace has broken out? Capa and his friend, writer Irwin Shaw, find themselves at the Ritz when who should arrive but Ingrid Bergman, the married Swedish-born movie star, who has taken the world by storm with films such as Casablanca and Gaslight.
Capa is smitten immediately and it is not long before he charms his way into Bergman’s affections and the beginning of an intense relationship. It was more than an affair for Bergman, who wanted to marry Capa but…. well, I think I should leave it for you to read the novel to see how it all ended up…you’ll get no spoilers from me!
We see a little of Paris throughout the book, especially as Bergman and Capa take to some famous streets, restaurants and nightclubs for their somewhat clandestine meetings, and it’s great to get a sense of what the city was like during this time of liberation.
“The newspapers are full of the Japanese surrender. V-J Day. People swarm in the streets with renewed fervour, waving flags and handkerchiefs, many clustered around boards where the front pages of the newspapers are displayed. Ingrid is with me on the back of a jeep as I take photographs. We’re driven slowly as part of an improvised victory parade through the wildly celebrating crowds.”– p68
While this is a work of fiction, it is highly researched, and much of it based on autobiographies by both Capa and Bergman. How much of it is “the truth” is always questionable in novels such as this, but it appears to capture enough of the man to help bring his work alive, and if you read it, you will always feel you know a little of the photographer himself whenever you see his images.
This part of Capa’s life is not the only novel in which he features. Susana Fortes’s Waiting for Robert Capa (which I have not yet read) is the story of the complicated relationship between Capa and one of the first female photojournalists to die on the frontline, Gerda Taro. The novel explores their lives and careers as the pair re-invent themselves from young radical Jewish exiles living in Paris by the name of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle to two of the world’s most celebrated war photographers. Changing their names and re-inventing the art of war photography, the two produced some of the most recognised images of the Spanish Civil War. Read more about their relationship here.
There is much more to the Robert Capa story than I have room for here, but if you’d like to know more about his extraordinary life, here are some suggestions.
- Read the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman
- Read the novel Waiting for Robert Capa
- Read Capa’s memoir Slightly Out of Focus
- Read Bergman’s autobiography My Story
- See the D-Day and other Normandy landing photos online
- Watch this documentary about Capa on YouTube, which includes comments by Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini
- Consider this hefty book which contains more than 900 of his images or head off to the International Center of Photography in New York, a photography school and museum founded by Capa’s brother Cornell, where much of his work is on permanent display.
- Watch the documentary The Mexican Suitcase which tells the amazing story of how three lost boxes of negatives, mainly shot by Capa, Taro and fellow photographer David “Chim” Seymour during the Spanish Civil War were found in a closet in Mexico in 2007. The 4,500 negatives had disappeared from Capa’s Paris studio at the beginning of World War Two.
And as a special treat, there are two films currently in development about Capa and his life – based on our two novels.
It seems that 100 years after his birth, Capa’s work is still having an impact, while his event-filled life continues to fascinate.
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