Speaker I first met Robert Capa when I came to New York in 1949 to find fame and fortune. He was one of the first people that I visited. Among them was Steichen and. And. Roy Stryker and and just just try to peddle my wares and see if anybody would hire me.

Speaker What was your first interaction with people like you, friendly to you with a cup of coffee?

Speaker I was. Robert Capa was always a friendly fellow, very charming, very pleasant, and always seemed to be in a hurry. But he certainly had time for me. He liked me. He liked what I had to show. And he sent me around to other people, which, of course, is how you. Get around in this town.

Speaker Some people said that cover was kind of like a father figure to some of the earlier people who were the as far as I don't know whether you consider him a relationship like that with him or not.

Speaker Now, I was generations ago very quickly and in an Magnum in photography, I was second generation, in other words, about three or four years after House and Bishoff.

Speaker So now I had my own father. He was not a good father figure. He was just a pleasant, charming, famous, interesting person who took an interest.

Speaker Did did he didn't care a lot about the younger photographers coming up?

Speaker I can't tell what he cared about time. He certainly cared about the people that were his colleagues and Magnum. And perhaps, as you suggest, he might have been a father figure to them. But to me, he was just the person that I was seeing. I had no preconceptions. I was just seeing somebody who might be helpful to my career.

Speaker How would you describe him just as a person when you when you met him, the way he spoke when you looked?

Speaker How would you.

Speaker Well, he had a very nice suit on.

Speaker I think he was rather pleased with his appearance. There's a bit cocky and self-assured. And charming at the same time.

Speaker And did you show me work right away or do you see here the Cup?

Speaker I certainly had not seen my work. I just. Came up to him and showed him a few pictures that I had taken, the same as I had done with other people in town, and he thought there was something to them. And so he sent me off to see others.

Speaker Do you remember the specific pictures that you showed?

Speaker I do not remember what I showed them, and I'm sure it was anything much. But I don't know, perhaps you don't have to really impress anybody with pictures or at least someone like Koppa. You have to you have to seem sympathetic and seem. Of a kind, I think that's much more important, that certainly has been the guiding spirit in Magnum with my colleagues. Photography is only part of it. I would say one third of it. The rest is everything else.

Speaker I'd love you to talk about the guiding spirit of Magnússon, lots of you, magnon, what it's about, what it was about in the beginning.

Speaker That's changed.

Speaker Well, the thing about Magnum, it's always essentially been the same, it's an association of people who don't want to be regularly employed and who want to keep their copyright and who feel that together they present some kind of a united front that has a better bargaining power, although things have changed since. But but maybe they haven't changed that much. Now, we just sort of presented ourselves as a kind of entity of quality, personal and photographic.

Speaker And in terms of the kinds of kinds of subject matter, were the purpose of taking photographs, is there?

Speaker I'm scared about that, but there is a group spirit in Magnum. As it is a group, spirit and families, it is not always pleasant. It has ups and downs. It has quarrels, it has. But fundamentally, it has a core. It has a fundamental. Sense of purpose.

Speaker And can you articulate that? That's what I'm looking for, and I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me that it was about.

Speaker The original foundation of Magnum was journalism, but that's a long time ago and things have changed. Journalism now is really in the realm of television mostly. The still pictures story. Went out of style long ago, I mean, there are still vestiges of it, so Magnum has changed very much to keep up with the times because after all, we do have to. Feed our families and we have to service a. Publications. So we have changed along with the times, but still the fundamental thing is that what we do. We try that what we do makes some sense in the human sense, doesn't have to be news, doesn't have to be, doesn't have to be anything specific. It simply has to be pretty good and it has to have something to do with the human condition.

Speaker How was your work interpreted that for?

Speaker The pictures of you looked at.

Speaker I may be a little different than most than some of my colleagues. I'm essentially a taxi driver. Whoever flags me down can have me. I have a. Kind of schizophrenic, professional life, I do a lot of commercial work and I do a lot of the other kind of work and I like both.

Speaker I don't make apologies for either. And. It's given me a rather pleasant way of conducting my life.

Speaker And when you have your own ideas for what kinds of things would be proposed or what do you what do you like to do when it's not?

Speaker Most recently, the kind of things that I've been doing are working on books.

Speaker I've had a number of books in recent times which are generally.

Speaker The result of pictures that I've taken for my own pleasure, for my own interest or as a side issue to the kind of work, sometimes commercial work that I've been assigned, I've always kept a separate separation between professional work, which has a responsibility to a magazine or to a client, and work that has no responsibility to anybody except myself.

Speaker And as your work, was your work influenced at all by Robert?

Speaker My work was not influenced by Robert Capa, not my work, but my life was certainly influenced by Robert Capa, as I would suspect most of my colleagues lives were directly or indirectly affected by his. His persona, by his character, by his. Humanity, by all the things that made up this rather strange, maybe not so strange, but rather complex, interesting man.

Speaker I've been going through his contact sheets at the ISP and what struck me there are there's an awful lot of images that are not what people think of when I think of Robert Kaplan. There were pictures of dogs.

Speaker Ever seen pictures of dogs taken by.

Speaker We like a lot of pictures, but most photographers get pigeonholed. You do something and it gets published and all of a sudden that's what you do.

Speaker Well, that's bullshit. A photographer takes pictures of anything or everything that crosses his lens, and that is of any interest. Categorizing people is useful for people who hire you, but it's it's not a measure of of anything.

Speaker I just wondered if that was something that particular subject, obviously something that you have fun with and.

Speaker Dogs, do I have pleasure with dogs? Of course I do.

Speaker Some people think I'm a dog photographer, but that's OK with me, I don't mind, I have taken pictures of things other than dogs, but I've published five books on the subject of dogs. And some photographer took.

Speaker I just don't think of that as one thing and also children. I noticed that I was reading this book, what you were going to read, and you mentioned that part of that series.

Speaker And that's also something that did a lot.

Speaker Well, I had no children and I have six of them. So there is a difference. I have read I've had they're grown up now. They've had ready subjects as far as children right under my nose, so. I would think that I have more pictures of children than I have dogs, but nobody thinks of me as a children's photographer.

Speaker Did you ever think of being a war photographer?

Speaker I have not thought of being a war photographer at all. I have no interest in that. You could get hurt.

Speaker I notice. Did you photograph Ground Zero?

Speaker Ground, you mean the current ground zero, there's so many ground zero. I have not. I have not. I did not photograph ground zero. No. Was that a choice? It was a choice and it was a choice not to. I don't know why. Normally I would jump.

Speaker I can't explain it. This is one time that I was not interested in. And participating, my colleagues did, and the wonderful job, they produced a book which I think is quite worthy. My hat is off to them, but I, I did not participate.

Speaker And one event, one very important event that you did photograph was Cathy's funeral and.

Speaker My last night, a photograph captured on a. Hmm, do I have to do that?

Speaker I know what you're talking about. I think you're referring to a picture in my current book, Snaps of Robert Capa's mother, Julia, whom I used to drive up to the cemetery in Armonk on occasion. Julia was a good friend of mine.

Speaker She's a marvelous lady, very.

Speaker Very kind to me. Anyway, I used to drive up to our to to visit Robert Capa's grave. And once I took a picture of her. Rather poignant picture, I think that's the picture I think you're referring to. I did not see his funeral. My dad was not part of it, but I misunderstood that.

Speaker I thought that his funeral that's very evocative of accident experience back in Vietnam, not very long.

Speaker Well, I'm not sure what played the picture of a woman draped over a grave.

Speaker So I think all pictures taken of. People at cemeteries grieving for their dead have a rather strong similarity. That's pretty universal.

Speaker Emotions that come from that.

Speaker And when you were taking Julia up with that, was that fairly close to the time of death?

Speaker What was that? It was about a year afterwards, as I remember. As I remember, was about a year afterwards, maybe six months afterwards.

Speaker And how would you describe her at that time?

Speaker How would I describe Julie at that time? First, obviously, she was destroyed because Robert was her pride and joy her. The light of her life, that sort of thing, but she was also extremely angry. She was furious. She was furious at Life magazine. She was furious at the person who assigned him to relieve Howard such a wreck. Who was.

Speaker Ofer.

Speaker A few days or so from his post, she was angry, she was angry and sad, that was that was it.

Speaker Angry John Morris Morris.

Speaker I think she was angry at him, too, but I wouldn't I personally would not, since I haven't seen that, I wouldn't confirm that rumor. But she was angry. I don't think she was only angry at John Morris, I think she was. She was angry at the whole business that put him in harm's way at a time that he really should have retired from harm's way. He was he certainly had done a lot of it. But as Hemingway said that. I think it was Hemingway and maybe Steinbeck that the percentages caught up with him. It was an.

Speaker Yeah, they did. And so, you know, I was at forty nine, you said that you met and then it was 40.

Speaker Yeah, 49 is when I first came to New York and I kept in touch with him. And. I kept in touch with him when I was in the army myself from 1951, I was assigned I was posted in France and in Germany and I made frequent trips to Paris. And whenever I could, I would drop in at the Magnum office and the Faubourg centenary. And if he was there, I would see him. So I kept in touch and he had told me that once I got out of the army, he would take me into the organizations and in fact, 20 minutes after I was decommissioned, I was there.

Speaker Was that something that you were really hoping for to become permanent?

Speaker Well, of course, I was hoping for that, but I was hoping for anything. I was young and already had a wife and a child on the way, and I had to find a way to to progress in my profession.

Speaker And back to Julia, obviously, you must have spent some time with her before she died.

Speaker What was she like? Did you ever see them together? What were they like?

Speaker I have not seen them together. Julia was a force of nature. An extremely. Powerful person, that's the only way I could describe her name. I slept on her couch once when I was. For some time when I didn't have a place yet, when I was looking for an apartment.

Speaker And.

Speaker I just. I was very friendly with her. She was she was friendly with not just me, with many people, she was called by most people, Mother Goose. Because she had so many children, she didn't know what to do, that sort of thing, and I guess I was one of them.

Speaker Was it a lively university coming in and out?

Speaker I was not a witness to any scenes at her house. I was there some of the time and as I mentioned, some of the times I would pick her up and later on, of course, and and try to be helpful to her in one way or another because I liked her.

Speaker This is another subject, but there were many women who wanted to marry and told them that he couldn't get married, and I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts about the other six children that were able to be a photographer and have a family and.

Speaker I thought someone else, so I don't think I'm a very good example of. Someone who maintain a profession and and six children while being a photographer, since I've had four wives, so I'm.

Speaker What's your question about my question really is what why would have been so hesitant to get married?

Speaker I can't speak for Koppa and why he didn't get married and perhaps he didn't get married. I don't know. There's some rumor that he was married. Not that it matters. He certainly doesn't have a family and he probably didn't have a dog. Dogs are more demanding the families. He got to take them out three times a day.

Speaker No, he didn't have a dog, as far as I know, I know everyone, we photograph dogs as well as.

Speaker You said something of yours that I read that on your. Someone is a pioneer. Can I say that?

Speaker You'll have to remind me, I don't remember saying that. OK, well, I'd have to find it. Was it? But anyway, if that's not something that you were thinking these days.

Speaker And you also said that photography.

Speaker Could be used as a weapon.

Speaker I saw you talking about me. It's one thing I don't do is make pronouncements, at least if I do, I regret doing so afterwards. Photographers take themselves much too seriously. Most of my colleagues do. And they their. They often say things that they regret afterwards or that make me blush anyway. No, I would prefer not to make any grand statements.

Speaker Well, I guess what what the question would be is, do you think Robert Cappa used his camera as a weapon of some kind? What was he trying to do with this?

Speaker I don't know that he set out to do something in particular. I mean, he was he reacted to. To the events, historical events of the time, he was a courageous man. He was politically motivated, humanly motivated, and in that sense, he used this camera in that manner. He was also a person who liked to have a good time. And enjoy the company of important and interesting and fascinating people, intellectuals within. It's and the camera was always there, as it is with most photographers, and when you live as he did, you photograph. What he lived. And he lived the words, he lived glamorous people, he lived. He lived with his photography shows.

Speaker Do you know, Cornell, I know Cornell pretty well, certainly know him better than I knew Robert Capa because Robert Capa was killed in 1954. It's a long time ago.

Speaker Well, how would you compare the two brothers? I think that they're quite different in many ways.

Speaker They're very different to Robert and Cornell are very different. But I wouldn't make any comparisons, I would just simply say that they are different.

Speaker They seem to have a fondness for other, but they seem to have had an incredible fondness for.

Speaker Did you have any did you ever see them together?

Speaker No, I haven't seen that much of our. Really? I mean, the.

Speaker I think.

Speaker I've heard I've heard more about him than I have seen, certainly my contact with him was the initial one, which was a very important one in Paris a few times when I was in the army, briefly afterwards when I got out. And then he had the misfortune of getting himself killed, so.

Speaker Did Julianne talk about.

Speaker Well, what about him, his childhood or any part of his life when you were driving up to his grave? Did she tell you anything? No, no. Yeah, yeah, we all know that.

Speaker Um.

Speaker Most of my questions, Jonathan.

Speaker I have a large question, and I don't want to say if you had to have all three words, how would you do it? Just your impressions of.

Speaker I think Kofa was a great personality. Which is not a great discovery. He was a great personality. I don't have to be too perceptive to see that that was that was is a great talent. Was that he was a. He was a great personality. That was his talent.

Speaker And on this account.

Speaker What did you do for a minute for people to hear or what what did it or was it work or.

Speaker Well, as you know, as I'm sure this documentary will indicate, he's the man. He's the man that invented himself. And it was a pretty good invention and it was an invention that needed nurturing.

Speaker So he as well must have been a kind of multiple personality. He was one thing and became something else. And he became something quite. Spectacular.

Speaker He invented himself and did he live up to the creation?

Speaker He more than lived up to it. He. The fact that now, 50 years after his death. He is still a magnet for so many people, as is.

Speaker Is.

Speaker Indicates the force of his personality.

Speaker Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Speaker I have a.

Speaker Dr..

Speaker I don't know what I can. I'd have to think about it, you see, I haven't thought about it. I think one of his enduring. Legacies is Magnum.

Speaker And Magnum has survived. All this time. Under the most impossible circumstances, which are being particularly difficult now.

Speaker Circumstances which sort of smother individual. Enterprise individual photographers were being bought by everybody or the professionals, by the Gatti's, by the corpses, by the people don't give a goddamn about photography, but only about the bottom line and about owning things. Anyway, we still survive, I think we're the last of any significance.

Speaker And.

Speaker And perhaps we'll continue and I think this is this is his legacy once we're gone, I think that legacy has gone.

Speaker No matter how many times there are young Magnum photographers and they're wonderful, there's no lacking of photography or photographers, there's a lack of where to go with it. That's a very serious black and. There's this.

Speaker Well, there's just fewer opportunities for good work, but there's plenty of good people out there, a lot of good young ones.

Speaker Some of the video. Well, the new ones that we've been taking in at Magnum. We have a screening process by which we try to look for people and see if not only there are they good photographers, but there they the decent human beings with the right values, at least as we perceive them. And there's a few of those. Not a lot, but there's a few.

Speaker You want to name any names or.

Speaker No, I'd rather not, because for one thing, I have a lousy memory. For another thing, I'd get them wrong.

Speaker I just remembered one question I was going to ask you. I don't know if you feel like talking about the difference between the three main founders of that country resolve challenges or you left out George Roger. Roger, right. They all had obviously shared something, but they had different styles. But the interesting thing to comment on the similarities and differences in their work.

Speaker Well, they were these four photographers who founded Magnum, actually, there was a fifth one, but he vanished quickly from the Magnum scene, William Vandervoort. What they had in common was the sort of, uh, uh, attitude towards life and to the world, but their styles were vastly different from somewhere and their interests were vastly different.

Speaker So.

Speaker So I'm confused, what can you articulate for this country?

Speaker First class. Oh.

Speaker No, I don't think I can. I don't want to make value judgments about about my colleagues. They were all important in their own ways.

Speaker And Ray was a classic kind of person. Robert Capra was a great adventurer. Although they all were adventurers, they were all were adventurous, but perhaps Capa was more than others. He was a great personality. I knew Roger in his later years, he was a shy person given to introspection. More. And David Seymour is just the. Marvelous man, I named one of my children after him.

Speaker He was a sweet, charming.

Speaker Quite opposite person to any of the others. He said he loved to eat and drink and have friends around, and he was a he was a quiet spirit.

Speaker But that's personally but photographically, I think they all had the human condition as as a guiding principle in various ways.

Speaker That's great, and that's what I was interested in until, well, I don't know if you could elaborate. They showed aspects of the human condition in their own words. Well, elaborate on the kinds of subjects that the.

Speaker Well, you know, it interesting you just look at their books they left behind.

Speaker The audience has never heard of it before.

Speaker Well, the audience had to go out and get their material and increase their book sales.

Speaker What if we talked about something like.

Speaker Is he with you, if you say some things that I can show their pictures up and I see some of the most. Some of the most interesting work of. David Seymour had to do with children right after the war.

Speaker Very touching, very. A very wonderful pictures.

Speaker Um.

Speaker George Roger, of course, had pictures taken in Africa, devastating pictures that he'd taken. At the close of the war, in particular, of the liberation of the some of the concentration camps.

Speaker Robert Capa is just a continuing.

Speaker Catalogue of wars from from China through. Spain through World War Two, through everything until he finally got his hand and Indochina. And who else was there?

Speaker Last but not least, Carteris response pictures. They defy descriptions because they're about as much about what he saw as they are about form, geometry, art, perception. It's a different category, but still an observation of the human scene.

Speaker And are any of those or influence two or more than our similarities between your work and any of those four more one more than the other?

Speaker The founders of Magnum have obviously influenced everyone who is in Magnum, they created Magnum, consequently the influence everyone in it. I mean, they are the the example in their many different ways.

Speaker They are the example for the photographers who are now in Magnum and who do many different things. Uh. I think they are. Had a great influence on what we do, perhaps Andre Cartier-Bresson had the greatest influence with regard to.

Speaker Composition, philosophy. But but they all had immense influence.

Speaker They created this. Amazing structure that has survived for over 50 years.

Speaker Is there anything else because I already asked you put any more that you'd like to have.

Speaker When am I going home?

Speaker Whenever you're ready. No, I'm just joking, you know, I'll be glad to tell you anything else, but I don't know what I can tell you. I mean, mean, I haven't prepared any speech or speech over the last thing.

Speaker Well, I. Wondering how you met Julia.

Speaker Gee, I wonder how did I meet Julia? I don't remember how I met her. She was very present at the time. Magnum, I mean, Magnum, especially in 1953 when I officially joined actually, I joined unofficially before then, but officially in 1953, right after I got out of the army, was a small group and it was an intimate group, much more than it is now. Not huge by comparison. We have 60 people or so now and officers here and there and everything. It was a small group, so we all knew each other pretty well and. I hate to say it again, but it's kind of a family, so you get to. You get to spend time. And that's how I met her, I don't know specifically how or when perhaps it was because I needed a place to stay at some point and somebody said, why don't you stay with her? I said, Sure.

Elliott Erwitt
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 20 Jan. 2002,
(2002, January 20). Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa: In Love and War. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 20, 2002. Accessed July 02, 2022


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