T is for Gerda Taro

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 23 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Gerda TaroThe recently published biography of war correspondent Marie Colvin illustrates the dangers and bravery of this peculiar profession and the very first woman on the frontline was photojournalist Gerda Taro.

Taro was born Gerta Pohorylle in Stuttgart in 1910 to a middle-class Jewish family. She would later change her name to overcome the increasing intolerance of Jews in Europe.

The family moved to Leipzig in 1929 just as the National Socialist Workers Party was beginning its rise to power which Taro opposed and in 1933 she was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda. Eventually, Taro was forced to leave Germany and headed for Paris to escape the growing anti-Semitism.

It was there that Taro met and fell in love with photojournalist Endre Friedmann who taught her photography. The two of them hatched a plan in which Friedman claimed to be the agent of an American called Robert Capa and the pair took and sold photos in the name of this non-existent photographer.

Friedman adopted the name Robert Capa while Taro also changed hers, taking her second name from the Japanese artist  Tarō Okamoto, and the two covered the rise of the left-wing Popular Front in France.

Taro and Capa travelled to Barcelona in 1936 to cover the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. They worked together in northeastern Aragon and in the southern Córdoba province syndicating their photographs under Capa’s name. However, Taro’s photos are distinguishable because she used a German Rollei camera which used a squared format like the photo on the right of a boy in an FAI cap.

As the civil war raged, Taro’s reputation grew as did the demand for her work by the international press that included Life in America and the Illustrated London News. Her most celebrated work came during the bombing of Valencia in May 1937 which she covered alone.

Taro was to die in a tragic accident just a few months later while covering the retreat at the Battle of Brunete. She was riding on the running board of a car carrying wounded soldiers when it crashed into a Republican tank. Taro was seriously injured and she died of her wounds the following day.

On 1 August 1937, on what would have been her 27th birthday, the French Communist Party gave Taro a grand funeral in Paris, drawing tens of thousands of people on to the streets. She was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery and a specially commissioned monument marks her grave.

There is a permanent display of her work in Leipzig close to the school named in her honour this year. Below is a Time magazine video produced when Taro was the subject of a Google Doodle on 1st August this year.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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