19th Jul 2018
Robert Capa was accredited by the US Army as a LIFE magazine war correspondent, despite being technically viewed as an ‘enemy alien’ by the US government on account of his Hungarian citizenship. His most famous assignment saw him land with the first wave of American troops on Omaha beach, on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Capa gave the following account of the landing at Omaha Beach: “I finished my pictures, and the sea was cold in my trousers. Reluctantly, I tried to move away from my steel pole, but the bullets chased me back every time. Fifty yards ahead of me, one of our half-burnt amphibious tanks stuck out of the water and offered me my next cover… Between floating bodies I reached it, paused for a few more pictures, and gathered my guts for the last jump to the beach. The slant of the beach gave us some protection, so long as we lay flat, from the machine-gun and rifle bullets, but the tide pushed us against the barbed wire, where the guns were enjoying open season… I took out my second Contax camera and began to shoot without raising my head.” Capa spent about an hour and a half on the beach, shooting four rolls of 35mm film on two Contax cameras, before being evacuated via a medical ship.
Upon his return to England on 7 June, Capa handed his exposed films to an army courier, who delivered them to the LIFE office in London to be developed before being sent to New York for publication, However, in the haste to make the deadline for the next issue, a young lab assistant turned up the head in the drying cabinet too high, melting the emulsion on the film. From the four rolls of film Capa had shot on the beach, only 11 survived.
The emulsion has melted just enough for it to slide over the surface of the image, causing it to blue slightly. This effect appears to have actually strengthened its dramatic impact, imbuing it with a movement and almost tangible sense of urgency.