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Art HERstory: Gerda Taro


Art HERstory: Gerda Taro

Art HERstory: Gerda Taro

Big things are said to come in small packages. I agree. Sometimes the smallest people or boxes pack life changing surprises. German-born Jewish photographer Gerda Taro (1910-1937) was a tiny bundle of bravery topped with a big red bow. She is respected as the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of war firsthand. She dedicated her life to photography and documenting some of mankind’s most tragic moments. She gave her life to her craft. Literally.

Who says women can't serve their country too? These ladies are militia women training for battle in the Spanish Civil War (1936)

Who says women can't serve their country too? These ladies are militia women training for battle in the Spanish Civil War (1936)

The brave little photographer was born Gerta Pohorylle in Stuttgart, Germany. At the age of 19 she and her family moved to Leipzig. As a Jew in Germany, Gerda rightfully had no respect for the Nazi Party. She was quite the firecracker to be honest. In 1933 she earned a rap sheet. She was arrested and detained for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda. Apparently after her release the government’s watchful eye didn’t lose its gaze upon the Pohorylle family. The entire household was forced to scatter in separate directions off Nazi Germany soil. Gerda never saw her family again.

War is no pretty picture. Gerda captured this intimate moment between a wounded solier and a female counterpart while covering one of many battles.

War is no pretty picture. Gerda captured this intimate moment between a wounded solier and a female counterpart while covering one of many battles.

Gerda’s path led her to Paris. Away from Hitler and anti-Semitism she stumbled upon the path that would lead her to her purpose. In 1935 she ran into photojournalist Andrew Friedmann. Without family or income Gerda began to work for Andre. She held the title of personal assistant, student, and lover.

Thought it was a silhouette of one of Charlie's Angels huh? Well this lady is a real killer. She's actually a female soldier training for the Republican militia in Barcelona, Spain (August 1936).

Thought it was a silhouette of one of Charlie's Angels huh? Well this lady is a real killer. She's actually a female soldier training for the Republican militia in Barcelona, Spain (August 1936).

The pair was quite crafty. They put their heads together and came up with the brilliant idea of taking news photos and sold them under the pseudonym of American photographer Robert Capa. The alias was inspired by American movie director Frank Capra. Their inside joke was short-lived and their secret was exposed. Andre continued to use the name while Gerta Pohorylle took on the name ‘Gerda Taro.’ Her new identity was a fusion of Japanese avant-guarde painter/sculptor Tarō Okamoto and Swedish actress Greta Garbo.

Republican soldiers enjoying their off day in Valencia (June 1937)

Republican soldiers enjoying their off day in Valencia (June 1937)

Continuing to feed their obsession for news photography, the two would obviously race to the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War. When the battle broke out Gerda and Andre traveled to Barcelona to begin work. While documenting one of the most important battles of the war, the Battle of Brunete, Gerda climbed aboard a footcar carrying wounded soldiers. A reversing tank collided into the side of the car and Gerda was seriously wounded. She was pronounced head hours later after fighting for her life in El Goloso English Hospital on July 26, 1937.

Two Page LIFE Magazine spread dedicated to Gerda's work printed less than a month after her death (August 16, 1937)

Two Page LIFE Magazine spread dedicated to Gerda's work printed less than a month after her death (August 16, 1937)

While in Spain covering the war, Gerda became affiliated with anti-fascist Europeans intellectuals like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. As a result she became a prominent figure in the anti-fascist movement. On August 1, what would’ve been her 27th birthday, the French Communist Party held a huge funeral in Paris and commissioned Alberto Giacometti to construct Gerda’s headstone.

The happier times at war were few and far between. Here, Gerda snaps a shot of soldiers aboard the Jaime I (The Spanish Battleship Potemkin) in Almeria (1937).

The happier times at war were few and far between. Here, Gerda snaps a shot of soldiers aboard the Jaime I (The Spanish Battleship Potemkin) in Almeria (1937).

On September 26, 2007 Gerda’s work was displayed at the International Center of Photography in New York City. It was her first major exhibition held in the United States.

Image Layout: Phaymiss

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