During the Spanish Civil War, the news started mentioning the name of the German photojournalist with the alias of “Little Red Fox”. She was called that way because of her age and red hair, as well as for being very witty when slipping through the fighters to get the best shot.
That woman was Gerda Taro, and she also invented the photographer André Friedmann´s pseudonym, Robert Capa. She published part of her work under that name. However, unlike her partner, Gerda’s figure remained anonymous for almost 60 years.
Her status as a young communist woman; her short career (she just started taking pictures in a professional way at the beginning of the Civil War, in August 1936, dying just a year after); the destruction of the Republican material when the war ended; and the fact that despite being her best love, Friedmann did not help her with the attribution of her work, made almost impossible to build the recognition she deserved as the first female photojournalist who died in action.
Gerda and André, André and Gerda
Her real name was Gerta Pohorylle. The couple changed their names during the Nazi Germany in order to protect themselves from National Socialism. They chose new identities to hide their Jewish origins. She opted for Gerda Taro, it was easy to pronounce and had a similar sound to Greta Garbo. For him, she invented Robert Capa’s identity, a wealthy and successful US photographer who had just arrived in Europe.
A myth was arising, the one of the Magnum Agency founder. Not only did Taro help him reinvent his name and choose expensive suits, but also show him her expertise behind the camera.
Gerda was living in Paris and was working as an assistant when they fell in love. She started taking pictures with him. Their bathroom was their lab. She used to type the captions of Andre´s photos while she was learning to use the camera. She started working for Alliance photo, the agency representing Friedman, but the sale of their photos did not make ends meet. In 1936 she thought of inventing his professional profile as Robert Capa and played as his agent convincing the editors “to buy the work of such an elusive genius” (told by Richard Welan on his biography). They were uncovered so they were forced to use the name of Capa and Taro respectively.
Destination: Spanish Civil War
In February 1936, Gerda got her first press pass and, after quitting the agency, she centred herself in professional photography. Motivated by their revolutionary ideals, the couple moved to Madrid in the midst of the Spanish Civil War to fight for the Republic and document the conflict. Although both of them used the 135mm format, Capa used a Leica (rectangular format) and Taro a Reflex-Korelle (squared format), that allows to establish a difference between photos and reclaim the ownership of some of the pictures.
Taro’s philosophy is proximity. The famous sentence “if your pictures are not good enough it means you aren’t close enough” can be applied to both of them. In the case of Gerda, this closeness is the protagonist itself.
In 1937 the photojournalist works for various magazines like Regards or Ce Soir. Her photographic sensitivity makes her document the war with an honest compromise. Her images, show war orphans, peasants, armed women from Madrid, Córdoba or Barcelona. Most of them are people, rarely scenes as such. According to the poet José Bergamín, Taro was “a light hunter”.
July, 26th 1937
Her Last article was published on July the 22nd of 1937 and showed the Brunete battle. Three days after, during the withdrawal of the Republican army, Gerda suffered a fatal accident that cost her her life.
No one can say that the apprentice didn’t match up to her master. However, and although they both shared copyright (Capa-Taro), several photos were unfairly said to come from Robert and after Gerda’s death, her work fell into oblivion. Until the German Irme Schaber published a work about Taro in 1994, to find a snapshot of hers you had to dive into the archives and research the newspaper and periodicals library.
From Kilfi we want to pay homage and remember this key figure of photojournalism that, until recently, hadn’t been sufficiently recognised. Gerda Taro was no amateur. She captured big instants “close enough” and above all was a great photographer, one of the true pioneers of photojournalism, the female lens that did the best coverage of the Spanish Civil War and the first professional to give her life in the line of duty, just today, 81 years ago.