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3 March 2007 - The Jewish Historical Museum contrasts Robert Capa’s war photos with portraits by Eva Besnyö, who grew up in the same street in Budapest.

THE ATTACK BEGINS : A MAN IS SHOT : HE FALLS. Thus reads the caption of a photo in the December 1938 issue of the Picture Post magazine, hailing Robert Capa as ‘the greatest war-photographer in the world’.

Capa is indeed predominantly known as a photographer who has captured the atrocities of war. Still, his photos are beautiful rather than gruesome. The subject matter may be terrible, but it is treated in a casual and somewhat unreal way.

A good example is the photo of some French fishermen on Omaha Beach, looking at a stack of dead bodies - American soldiers who had died during the allied invasion. There are some amphibians in the background, and zeppelins glisten in the sky.

Shortly after the liberation, Capa spent some time in Amsterdam and photographed the Goldstein family in their house at the Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat. The family had to live on one meal a day, but even this Capa turned into something beautiful.

Capa's aesthetic photos seem to fit well with the romantic image he had of wars. He was prepared to risk his life only to cover wars in which he loved one side and hated the other, a caption at the exhibition says.

Capa died in 1954 after stepping on a mine in Indochina, where the French were involved in what was to become the Vietnam War.

After the Capa exhibition, it takes some adjustment to see Eva Besnyö’s photos, treating somewhat more commonplace issues. Besnyö grew up in the same street in Budapest as Capa, who was a friend of her.

In 1932, Besnyö moved to Amsterdam. During the German occupation, she made pictures for the Resistance to use for fake ID’s. Later, she became an active member of the Dolle Mina feminist movement.

She seems to have spent some of her time as something of a society photographer for the cultural elite in Amsterdam, Bergen, Berlin and Paris. The exhibition features many portraits of actresses and artists.

The best ones are perhaps those of herself - both self-portraits and photos taken by others. If only because of her smart hairdo.

In addition to portrait photos, Besnyö also took many pictures of the sturdy side of the Netherlands: trains, ships, the construction of the Afsluitdijk (the dike closing the Zuiderzee) and the Fokker airplane factory in Amsterdam Noord.

To accompany the Besnyö exhibition, a comprehensive catalogue has been published. It has the advantage of showing how some photos were used in practice, for example for stamps sold to benefit children (kinderpostzegels), for the sleeve of a single called ‘Wandering Gypsy’ and for advertising campaigns.

Opening hours. Catalogue 35 euro, available at the museum shop. Photo above: Robert Capa, Children playing in a house from which the wood has been salvaged to use as firewood (at the Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat), June/July 1945. Photo below: John Fernhout, Eva Besnyö, 1933/1934, Bergen.



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