Cornell Capa, “The Concerned Photographer” for Life magazine who founded the International Center of Photography in New York, died in his Manhattan home at 90. Representatives at the ICP confirmed hisdeath of natural causes on Friday.
In Mr. Capa’s nearly 30 years as a photojournalist, the professional code to which he steadfastly adhered is best summed up by the title of his 1968 book “The Concerned Photographer.” He used the phrase often to describe any photographer who was passionately dedicated to doing work that contributed to the understanding and well-being of humanity and who produced “images in which genuine human feeling predominates over commercial cynicism or disinterested formalism.”
The subjects of greatest interest to Capa as a photographer were politics and social justice. He covered both presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s and also became a good friend of Stevenson. He covered John F. Kennedy’s successful presidential run in 1960, and then spearheaded a project in which he and nine fellow Magnum photographers documented the young president’s first hundred days, resulting in the book “Let Us Begin: The First One Hundred Days of the Kennedy Administration.” (He got to know the Kennedys well; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would become one of the first trustees of the I.C.P.)
In Argentina, Mr. Capa documented the increasingly repressive tactics of the Peron regime and then the revolution that overthrew it. In Israel, he covered the 1967 Six Day-War. The vast number of picture essays he produced on assignment ranged in subject from Christian missionaries in the jungles of Latin America to the Russian Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia during the cold war, the elite Queen’s Guards in England and the education of mentally retarded children in New England.
His work conformed to all the visual hallmarks of Life magazine photography: clear subject matter, strong composition, bold graphic impact and at times even a touch of wit. In his 1959 essay about the Ford Motor Company, for example, one picture presents a bird’s-eye view of 7,000 engineers lined up in rows behind the first compact car all of them were involved in developing: a single Ford Falcon.
“I am not an artist, and I never intended to be one,” he wrote in the 1992 book “Cornell Capa: Photographs.” “I hope I have made some good photographs, but what I really hope is that I have done some good photo stories with memorable images that make a point, and, perhaps, even make a difference.”