Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Source:, Political dissidents arrested after the assassination of Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, Managua

Upon entrance to the museum of the International Center of Photography, one’s eye is instantly drawn to a gargantuan photograph portraying political dissidents imprisoned in Nicaragua.  The viewer’s eye, adequately appalled by the repugnance of the picture’s contents, fails to read the text accompanying the photograph.  While that wall of text lists many of the photographer’s accomplishments, those words do Cornell Capa no justice.  Like any artist, the story of Capa’s life is not his biography but, rather, the works that he created.  

Cornell Capa is best known as a “concerned photographer,” a term he himself coined to describe photographers who try to change the world with their photography, not just capture it.  In the case of Capa, it was this style of documentation, this struggle to inspire reform, that characterized his career.   Capa spent his life recording issues that humanity needed to see, and resolve, if it truly meant to advance itself as a civilization.  Moreover, Capa’s works reveal instances where the photographs not only document events and emotions but also some deep-seated reality present in the situation and in humanity in general.   An example of this is a photograph, taken in August of 1995 in Buenos Aires, portraying Juan Peron’s army marching to honor Argentine’s liberator.  The picture highlights the political condition of Argentine, the fear on the faces of civilians, and the irony present in dictatorial troops marching to honor a liberator.  Another example is a series of photographs following Juan Peron’s career.  The first two shots portray Juan Peron perched atop a lamppost, surrounded by his supporters.  Here, the vantage point, placed well above the lamppost, is used to emphasize the number of people supporting Peron.  The third picture portrays college students burning photographs of the dictator and the fourth shows the people celebrating when the rebellious naval troops arrive to overthrow his regime.  The latter photograph, instead of capturing the army’s arrival, shoots the people’s celebration, which serves the overall message well:  first the people support a dictator and celebrate his rise and then they rebel and celebrate his fall.  Capa’s style, to shoot reality instead of poses, made sure that he captured the emotions truest to the subjects; the distrust on the face of the impoverished boy talking to a white collared man, the determination on the face of protesters marching against US interference in their country, the joy on the faces of the family given a union-supported home, and the indifference on the face of the gun traders all signify things that induce far more emotion if authentic.
And it is this induction of emotions that Capa does truly well.  No matter what he shoots, Capa always manages to inspire something, be it joy, grief, hope, or depression because one sees that these are not poses.  These are real people, just like the viewer, who face these problems that the viewer might one day have to face and it is that empathy which lies at the root of all reform.


1 Rachel { 12.03.08 at 5:51 pm }

What a picture! This really captures the terrible situation that you describe in your piece.

2 Keyana { 12.08.08 at 5:45 pm }

I really like your vivid imagery and description. Although I did Meseilas for my piece, reading your review allowed me to revisit the exhibit in my head. Very strong concluding sentence. Nice work.