Photo Critic and Historian to Discuss The Myth Surrounding Robert Capa’s Famed D-Day Photos

Oct. 8, 2018

Photo Critic and Historian to Discuss The Myth Surrounding Robert Capa’s Famed D-Day Photos
A. D. Coleman will be on campus to discuss the research into Robert Capa's iconic D-Day photos.

ST. LOUIS - The most iconic photos from the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II came from the camera of one man – the legendary war photographer Robert Capa. As legend tells it, Capa stormed the beaches of Normandy along with the first wave of American troops, capturing the emotions of soldiers and the overwhelming destruction that surrounded them as they faced the Nazis for the first time.

“Between floating bodies, I reached the shelter of a German obstacle, paused for a few more pictures, and gathered my guts for the last jump to the beach,” Capa once said about running head-first into an active battlefield, armed only with a camera. 

Out of the 106 photos he claimed to have taken that day, only 11 survived as the rest were destroyed in a darkroom accident in London, he would later recount. Life Magazine published five of them in a spread that reported on the invasion to the American audience. Capa would later be granted the Medal of Freedom for the photos he took on that day, along with many other photos taken during the war.

On Nov. 9, historian and photo critic A. D. Coleman will discuss “Robert Capa on D-Day: Unmaking a Myth” at Webster University and open "Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day," a month-long exhibit of Capa’s photos along with information uncovered that sheds new light on those images.  Between 2014 and the present Coleman has led an investigation of Capa’s D-Day photos and the fate of his negatives, challenging the myth surrounding them and raising many questions, including:

  • Was Capa really among the first soldiers to storm the beach?
  • Was Capa under heavy enemy fire while on the beach?
  • Did he really stay on the beach long enough to take 106 photos?
  • Was there really a darkroom accident, or was that a cover story to mislead people about how long he was on the beach that day?

“These are some of the most famous photos to come out of World War II, and we now believe that the story around them may have been greatly exaggerated,” said Bill Barrett, a professor of photography in Webster University’s School of Communications. “Coleman’s work is an example of journalism at its finest in that it tries to find out the truth of what happened instead of propagating a myth.”

Coleman’s research on Capa’s D-Day photos earned him and his colleagues on the research team the 2014 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Award for Research About Journalism, and the Photo Review Award 2015 “for outstanding contributions to photography, including the investigation of Robert Capa’s D-Day photographs.”

Coleman was the New York Times’ first photo critic, publishing 120 articles during his tenure there. He also has written columns for the Village Voice, the New York Observer, and many other periodicals here and abroad. In 1998, the magazine American Photo named him one of the 100 most important people in the field of photography. He has published eight books of his own writings and has contributed to numerous other books about photography.

Coleman’s lecture will be at 3 p.m. Nov. 9 in room 123 of the Sverdrup Complex on Webster University’s campus in Webster Groves. He also will be at an opening reception of the Capa exhibit from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 9 in the May Gallery on the second floor of the west wing of the Sverdrup Complex.

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