The Magnificent Eleven

Posted by Stephen Petrey on Sunday, October 28, 2018

Robert Capa, is hands down, one of my all-time favorite photographers. He was an incredible photojournalist. Took immense risks to get the perfect shot and was seemingly, everywhere. A selection of his work is documented and available to view on The Met archives.

While I could drone on and on about his accomplishments, his life’s work, and incredible war motifs — I suggest that you, yourself get lost in his body of work at Magnum Photos another time. But today, I want to share something specific from his life.

A documentation of a terrible day in history, D-Day. It’s true that the horrors of war are often poorly captured, and all too-often, censored. But Capa, being of the daring and lucky sort, volunteered to be a war photographer during the operation at Normandy. 

He took over a hundred photos, which is astounding given the total and complete chaos that ensued on all six of the gritty, blood-ridden foamy shores. After the monumental achievement of surviving the battle, he mailed off his rolls of film for processing at a film lab in London operated by Life. 

Of all 106 photographs Capa took that fateful day, a photo lab assistant had ruined all but eleven photographs. While it’s tragic, it’s almost fitting that the images that survived carry the full weight of that dangerous and wicked day. In a sense, it amplifies the mythology and altitude of the operation. The images have since been called The Magnificent Eleven. You can see all of the eleven here, but this one is my favorite:

It’s straight from a nightmare. It turns out that the eleven served as inspiration for Spielberg’s, Saving Private Ryan. Which is not surprising. It’s a powerful film, and wonderful homage to Capa’s work, and more importantly an homage to all who braved their lives during the war.


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