Ongoing updates about our work-in-progress, “The Eyes of the World: A Story of a Man, a Woman, & a Camera”, to be published by Henry Holt for Younger Readers in 2014:
Last summer, while sitting at lunch at the Vermont MFA program, chatting with many veteran children’s book authors such as Walter Dean Myers, Leda Schubert, I was suddenly thunderstruck with inspiration: I knew what my next young adult nonfiction book would be–the story of photographer Robert Capa, the less-known Gerda Taro, and their friend Chim, as they set off to photograph the Spanish Civil War and create modern photojournalism–and war journalism–as we know it today. Nothing like the company of other authors, bubbling with their own ideas, to set one going.
Indeed, given that this is very much a story of a man and a woman collaborating–as equals, as compadres, as artists–it seemed the perfect next book for Marc and I to write. We had been casting about for a new idea and had touched on the idea of collaboration–various duets in history that have joined forces to create something they could not do on their own.
The story of Capa and Taro had caught my eye a few years ago when I went to an exhibition at the International Center for Photography–“This is War!”–a huge retrospective of Capa’s work. I’d always been fascinated with the Magnum photographers, and fell in love with those images from the Spanish Civil War–the molded, strong faces staring up at a sky strafed with war planes; children playing see saw amidst rubbled buildings. At that exhibition, I became acquainted with Taro’s work, which also shared a smaller exhibition space. I learned that in fact she and Capa were an artistic team–Capa & Taro–and they had gone off together, as lovers, as friends, as co-conspirators in the aim of telling the world about the Republican cause. Like so many of their generation, they believed that the Spanish Civil War was the war to stake a claim–that if it was not won–Europe would surely fall to fascism. (And of course they were right in this regard) Armed with their new, lightweight Leicas and Rolloflexes, they set off, arriving in Barcelona on August 5th, 1936. Sadly, Taro would not live more than a year, as she was killed during the Battle of Brunete in July, 1937. This is one of the reasons her work is not as well known–she died very young, just as she was emerging as a daring and canny photojournalist in her own right.
Yet I loved Taro’s work—they were at times, smaller, more fragile than Capa’s bold, shaky action shots. And I was fascinated by this impish, elfin woman with short hair, who was not a muse to a male artist, but his equal. In the few images of her that exist, she comes across as someone surprisingly light-hearted (given the grim surroundings), tomboyish, as in a photo taken of her sleeping in a hotel room, or another of her crouching in a trench with a soldier, bombs thudding nearby.
Taro’s fame-or perhaps her profile–would rise considerably with the surprising discovery of the Mexican Suitcase—over 4,500 images from the Spanish Civil War, taken by Capa, Taro and Chim, which had been lost for over seventy years. The show, which opened at ICP in 2010, was a revelation, and it opened the door ever the more to Taro’s own beautiful images, along with their friend Chim, whose views of children, especially, have always been a haunting reminder of the cost of war. Scholars are still poring over these images, making sense of them, recalibrating who took what shot, and thus filling in this rich story of image-making, friendship, politics, love and collaboration.