Gerda Taro was born under the name Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart, Germany on August 1, 1910. Taro was born into a middle class Polish-Jewish family that migrated from Galicia (modern day areas of Southern Poland, western Turkey and northern Ukraine) to Leipzig, Germany when she was 19 years old. During that time, the National Socialists and leftist parties were growing in Germany against the rise of the Nazi party. With a new group of friends, Taro joined these organizations hoping to change the rising conservative political climate. In 1933, she was arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest. Taro soon realized that it was becoming too dangerous in Germany and left for Paris, France.
When Taro arrived in Paris, she had a difficult time finding a way to survive. She soon met André Friedmann, a Hungarian photographer. A romance blossomed between the two and Taro became André's business manager for his photography, while also beginning to experiment with photography. Taro then started working at the Alliance Photo Agency and was taught how to become a photojournalist. In 1936, she received her first press card. Though life seemed to be looking up for both of them, there was not a lot of work, so André and Gerda decided to changed their names to a more Americanized version thinking more work would come through. André Friedmann changed his name to Robert Capa giving a hat tilt to the American film maker Frank Capra, while Gerda Photorylle changed to Gerda Taro giving homage to the Japanese artist Taro Okamoto.
When the Spanish Civil war broke out in July 1936, Taro and Capa immediately packed for Barcelona, Spain. The opportunity to photograph warfare and be part of a leftist cause spoke to the heart of Taro and Capa. During this time, it is easy to distinguish between the two photographers work. Though they photographed the exact same scenes, Taro photographed with her Rollei, which produced a square frame on film, while Capa used his Leica, which produced rectangular frames on film. Another difference between the work was that Taro experimented in the style of New Vision photography that had recently emerged in Europe at the time.
Taro and Capa collaborated as a team and were published in established magazines like Vu in France or the Züricher Illustrierte in Switzerland. Unfortunately, most of the photographic work was given credit to Robert Capa at the beginning. When looking through their contact notebooks, it was realized that they had worked together one these stories and that each image was either one or the other's with stories attached.
The pair made a second trip to Spain in February 1937. In this period of time, both photographers were working in the same rectangular format, so more of their images are credited incorrectly. They also started to publish their work together with "Capa&Taro" as the copyright credit. This can be first seen in a spread in the French weekly Regards on fighting in Madrid, Spain. By the end of February, Capa left Spain and returned to Paris, while Taro stayed. She then started to credit her photos as "Photo Taro", leading people to believe that the romance had ended and Taro was trying to elevate her career alone. Some of Taro's most striking photographs were taken during this time at a hospital and morgue after the bombings in Valencia, Spain.
In July 1937, Taro went to document the Second International Writers’ Congress on the Defense of Culture at Madrid and then went to Brunete, outside of the capital, to cover fighting for Ce Soir, a French Popular Front newspaper. She photographed the battle for the city over a two weeks period. Her images were overwhelmingly reproduced because they demonstrated that the Loyalists were holding the Brunete, despite news outlets saying otherwise. On July 25, Taro found herself in the midst of an awful retreat with the Loyalists. She jumped onto a running-board of a car transporting casualties hoping to get away. Unfortunately, a tank sideswiped the car, knocking Taro to the ground where she sustained many wounds. She died the next day. Her body was returned to Paris, where Taro was given the titled of an anti-fascist martyr. Her funeral took place on what would have been her twenty-seventh birthday with over tens of thousands of people honoring her passing.
Written by Gwen Cinelli
Image Sources: International Center of Photography (ICP) and Fred Stien
Thumbnail Image: Gerda Taro in hat, 1936. Unknown photographer.