martes, 27 de noviembre de 2012


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Berlin, mid July 1932. The 35 mm film rolls exposed by Harald Lechenperg during the wedding of the future maharaja of Patna in the Punjab (India) have just arrived at the seat of Dephot Agency (Deutsche Photodienst).

A young 18 year old laboratory assistant, Endre Ernö Friedmann, known with the nickname of Bandi, who is also working as a delivery boy, has just seen the 24 x 36 mm contact sheets of the aforementioned reportage after the development of the negatives in the darkroom. It´s a turning point in his life. A huge enthusiasm invedes all of his being, and breaking every protocol, he takes the contact sheets in his hand and rushes towards the office of Simon Guttman, director of Dephot Agency, abruptly bursting into it, showing him the little 24 x 36 mm images and crying that those are the best pictures he has ever seen.

Guttman, a highly experienced man regarding the visualization and selection of images (he was the founder of Dephot in 1928 along with Alfred Marx) and one of the best picture editors in history along with Edward K. Thompson, John G. Morris, Jimmy A. Fox, Howard Chapnick, Wilbur E. Garret, Robert Pledge, Monica Cipnic, David Friend, Jay Colton, Jeffrey D. Smith and others, is at those moments the flagship of the German photojournalism, the unchallenged benchmark in early thirties, with such outstanding publications as Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Muncher Illustrierte Presse, Die Dame, Kölnische Illustrierte, etc.

He has worked closely with Muncher Illustrierte Presse and other illustrated magazines (while Weltrundschau Agency, directed by Rudolph Birnbach, sold its pictures above all to Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Republican Illustrated and A.I.Z), and also with top-notch photojournalists like André Kertész, E.P. Hahn, Felix H. Mann, Kurt Hutton, Umbo, Walter Bosshard, Harald Lechenperg, Balkin, Wolfgang Weber, Comeriner, Seldow, Tim Gidal, Willy Rugge, Martin Muncaksi and others.

Both the queer situation and Bandi´s unconscious daring greatly draws the attention of Guttmann, who knows Lechenperg deeply (the remarkable Hungarian editor was always accurately aware about the most suitable photographer for every assignment) and guesses that the pictures made in Punjab have to be superb indeed (as a matter of fact, the reportage would be published in the number of Die Dame of August 15, 1932).

He realizes the huge passion that has inflamed the heart of the very young Bandi, and with his great nose for photographers hunting, after talking to him again some more times during the following weeks in the Romanisches Café of the Kurfürstendamm, decides to put him through his paces as a photographer and gives him

the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5, with which between late August and mid November of 1932 he orders him to make some not signed small photographic tasks in the area of Berlin (mainly getting pictures of people walking through streets and sports events) in order that he can get accustomed to using the little camera in action contexts, as well as verifying his talent, until during the last week of November of 1932, he assigns him his first important credited reportage as a professional photojournalist: to go to Copenhaguen (Denmark) to get pictures of Leon Trotsky during a lecture he will pronounce on November 27, 1932 in the Sports Palace of that city before an attendance of some thousands of university Danish students.

Endre Ernö Friedmann successfully fulfills the mission, takes very good photographs and the first photojournalistic reportage of his life is published two weeks later in full page by the German magazine Der Welt Spiegel in its number of December 11, 1932, with the byline Aufnahmen Friedmann Degephot appearing on its right lower area.

© Lisl Steiner

1961. Twenty-nine years later.

Julia Friedmann goes for the last time to Amawalk Cemetery (New York) to pray by the grave of Robert Capa, her son.

She is being accompanied by a woman whom she met two years before and was about to marry a friend of her son Cornell Capa and has become a great friend of hers.

Julianna Henrietta Berkovits, born in 1888 in Nagy Kapos (Ruthenia), driving axle of Friedmann family in Budapest and the woman who managed to carry her sons Laszlo Friedmann, Endre Friedmann and Kornél Friedmann forward during twenties through strenuous effort and sacrifice of years (with usual exhausting working days from very early in the morning until midnight in the sewing salon of the family, while his husband Dezsö Friedmann spent part of the household income playing cards) is 73 years old.

In spite of the great affection and cares given to her by Cornell Capa, his wife Edie Capa and other persons who went out of their way trying to make her feel well, Robert´s death in 1954 shattered her.

Since then, she has visited some countries like Japan and Italy, invited to speak about her son Bob, but she hasn´t been able to overcome his absence and his memory, which flow every second into her mind and have filled her life with very deep sadness and grief since she attended his burial on June 11, 1954, in this same place in which she is now with her friend.

Julia Friedmann, who changed her name to Julia Capa in United States, is visibly aged and very worn out by suffering. The great health, strength and stamina she always featured have significantly waned, and the warmhearted and beloved Mother Goose is almost without energy to go on living.

Seven years have elapsed since she lost Bob, her favourite son, killed when stepping on a land mine while he was getting pictures during the Indochina War in the area of Thai Binh (Vietnam) on May 25, 1954.

Her elder son Laszlo had died in 1935 from rheumatic fever, and her husband Dezsö had died in 1939.

There has been one only survivor: her youngest son Cornell Capa, a great photographer who will sacrifice his career to fight to his utmost trying keep alive the memory of his brother Robert and his photographic legacy, founding the ICP of New York in 1974, with the help of Edie Capa (who had a very good eye and visual memory for images and had become a remarkable picture editor working from contact sheets, as well as featuring a great organizing talent), Cornell Capa´s secretary Anna Winand - both women had already worked intensively for some years before 1974 inside Cornell´s office in Manhattan, located in the Lower Fifth Avenue, classifying Bob´s huge photographic archive- and Micha Bar-Am.

Julia Friedmann, the all passion and huge working capacity woman, who cooked by the piece - specially Krautfleckerln in Hungarian Káposztás tészta style - from 1937 in the brownstone of West-eighty ninth Street of New York, where she lived with Cornell Capa (who worked as a printer in the laboratory of Pix Agency, founded in Manhattan in 1936 by Leon Daniel, Celia Kutschuk, Alfred Eisenstaedt and George Karger and would quickly become a Life magazine darkroom expert, and after working in the photo intelligence unit of the U.S Air Force during the Second World War,  he turned into a Life staff photographer in 1946) and his wife Edie, preparing meals not only for them but also for many future great pros then still fledging photographers beginning their careers like Ralph Morse (who went to see Mother Goose, Cornell and Edie after finishing his photography classes in the City College of New York) , Eileen Darby (who worked in Pix laboratory in the same way as Cornell Capa and subsequently founded her own agency Graphic House in 1941)), Yale Joel, Phil Schultz and others (including Ruth Orkin from 1943), perceives the proximity of death and sits by the grave of her son Robert Capa, doing it in such a way that she can´t see the inscription with his name on the stone slab, because she can´t stand the sorrow. She is immersed in her own thoughts, with an almost lifeless gaze, and it is at this moment when the woman who has accompanied her to the Amawalk cemetery, gets her last picture.

A few seconds later, a terrible and heart-rending scene happens when suddenly Robert Capa´s mother bursts into tears and throws herself on the grave of his son, yelling: Bob, Bob, Why are you here? !

Next day, two months before her death, Julianna Henrietta Berkovits gives her friend the first Leica camera used by his son Robert Capa: the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 with which the famous war photographer made the first reportage of his life, getting the pictures of Leon Trotsky during the lecture imparted by him in Copenhaguen in 1932 and which Julia Capa had preserved since Bob´s death in 1954.

 Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

A few weeks before its 22nd Camera Auction to be held on November 24, 2012, in its headquarters of Vienna, Westlicht announces that the first Leica camera used by Robert Capa will be among the items on sale.

It brings about a remarkable excitement, for it was known that the famous Hungarian photojournalist had used a chromed Leica III with non coated Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 designed by Max Berek during the Spanish Civil War(now we know that he also used the Leica II Model D number 90023 with an Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens) until late May 1937 and a Contax II with Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 designed by Ludwig Bertele from that date, but there was very scarce information about the cameras that he had used before 1935 (year in which he acquired a second body: the Leica III because it was very important for him to be able to use its new dial with 1/20 sec, 1/15 sec, 1/10 sec, 1/8 sec, 1/4 sec, 1/2 sec and 1 sec slow speeds lacked by the Leica II Model D - then, the 35 mm films had a very low sensitivity- after turning the high speed dial to the also new speed mark 20-1 and the quick Summar 5 cm f/2 lens) and above all, it was utterly unknown the fact that Julia Friedmann had given in 1961, shortly before her death, to a person of his utmost confidence, the first Leica camera used by her son Bob in 1932.

51 years later, that person has arrived in Vienna coming from New York and is already within the great hall of Westlicht Photographica Auction, where she is going to attend to the bids for the quoted Leica II (Model D) camera number 90023 that she has discreetly kept for more than half a century and which has decided to put on sale in order that it can be in the hands of a collector or investor in a position to preserve it in future.

Lisl Steiner shows the full page of the number of the German illustrated magazine Der Welt Spiegel of December 11, 1932 with the first reportage made by Endre Ernö Friedmann to Leon Trotsky in Copenhaguen on November 27 of that year with the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens sold in the 22nd Westlicht Camera Auction held in Vienna on November 24, 2012.

This woman is Lisl Steiner, one of the best women photographers in history, great friend of Julia Capa, Cornell Capa and his wife Edith Schwartz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pau Casals, Leonard Bernstein, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Erich Leinsdorf, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Neruda, Pele, Oscar Niemeyer, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Friedrich Gulda, Martin Luther King, Nat King Cole, Jorge Luis Borges, Rod Steiger, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Sir Thomas Beecham and many other internationally renowned personalities whom Lisl has captured all over the world throughout her professional career of more than 60 years as a photojournalist, and whose pictures were published in top class publications like Life, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Keystone Press Agency, O Cruzeiro and others, having also been featured in the number 2/2000 of the legendary magazine Leica World, and has likewise worked in a vast range of TV productions for NBC and PBS.

Lisl Steiner holds with both hands two enlarged 24 x 36 mm contacts of the reportage made by Endre Ernö Friedmann to Leon Trotsky in Copenhaguen in 1932, using the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 camera with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens and bulk loaded black and white cinematographic Kodak Panchromatic Nitrate 35 mm film featuring a sensitivity of Weston 32, roughly equivalent to 40 ASA.

Two years after being delivered the camera by Robert Capa´s mother, she covered with Cornell Capa the presidential campaign of John Fitzgerald Kennedy until the very day of his assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The starting price of the camera with its Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens was 8,000 euros,

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

because the Leica II (Model D) was manufactured in great quantities: 21,970 units during 1932 (first production year to which belongs the camera given by Julia Friedmann to Lisl Steiner in 1961), with a total figure of black lacquered 36,938 units and 15,573 chromed ones made between 1932 and 1948.

In spite of it, the bidding minutes for Capa´s first Leica inside the hall of Westlicht Photographica Auction had an indescribable not free of stress thrill, with a very strong ´bidding battle´ that quickly made the price increase by leaps and bounds until reaching the figure of 50,000 euros, which was widely surpassed on attaining the 65,000 euros,

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

after which a final bidding of 78,000 euros, far superior to the starting price, became the winner, which was a great success and has an important merit, because it is a camera model produced in great quantities, though it isn´t less certain that the persons who took part in the bid were aware about the fact that this camera captured a number of very relevant episodes of the history of photography in the hands of one of his foremost photojournalists.

As a matter of fact, this camera made such assignments as the already mentioned Leon Trotsky´s speech in Copenhaguen in 1932; the reportage of the exhibition of drawings by Heinrich Zille in Berlin in February 1932 which was published in Der Welt Spiegel of March 12, 1933; the Tame Wolf in Hungary in 1933; the reportage of Saarland made in the last week of September 1934 and published in two chapters in the numbers of Vu magazine of November 7 and 21, 1934 with very modern layout of text and pictures for the time; the photographs of the arrangements of the flight of Spanish colonel Emilio Herrera trying to beat the altitude world record with an airship, published in the number of Vu magazine of June 5, 1935; the Seville Easter Holy Week in the number of Voilà of April 4, 1936 with pictures made in 1935; the French voters in the municipal building of Saint Dennis (France) the day of elections on May 3, 1936; the pictures of León Blume speech in Paris on July 14, 1936; the workers of Renault factory on strike in the factory of Boulogne-Billancourt in late May 1936; the workers on strike with a basket of sausages in Saint-Ouen in early June 1936; the exchange brokers under the porch of Paris Bourse building in May 1936; the actors tests in the cinema Crochet of Paris in May of 1936; the reportage made in the last week of June 1936 during the special session of the League of Nations in Geneva and published in the number of Vu of July 8, 1936; the reportage of the International Meeting for Peace held in Verdun (France) on July 12, 1936 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the battle; the street dances celebrating the Day of Le Bastille Capture in Paris on July 14, 1936; the Armistice Day in Paris on November 11, 1936

and a number of historical and famous  reportages made by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War (in which he used two cameras, the Leica II Model D with Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 sold in Westlicht and a Leica III Model F with Summar 5 cm f/2 lens) such as the bombings of Madrid (Regards December 10, 1936); a number of the pictures taken in Barcelona and its surroundings and in Aragon Front (Santa Eulalia, Leciñena, etc) in August 1936 published in Regards number of  September 10, 1936; a percentage of the pictures made in Puerta del Sol of Madrid in late August 1936; some of the pictures made in Cerro Muriano and Espejo (Córdoba) in early September of 1936 and published in the number of Vu of September 23, 1936 and Regards number of September 24, 1936; a number of the pictures taken in the University City of Madrid, Parque del Oeste and Casa de Campo during November-December of 1936 (published in Regards numbers of December 10, 17, 24 and 31 of 1936, along with Life of December 28 of that year) and February of 1937 (published in Ce Soir March 11, 1937, Ce Soir March 31, 1937, Ce Soir May 3, 1937, the New York Times of April 4, 1937 and Life of April 26, 1937 ); many of the photographs taken during the escape of Málaga refugees going across the coast road on foot towards Almería fleeing the Francoist troops advance; the Battle of Monte Sollube in Bilbao area during the first week of May 1937 (published in Regards May 20, Ce Soir May 14 and 15; Bilbao city being bombed by Francoist planes and its population running through the streets or watching the aerial combats in early May 1937 (published in Ce Soir May 17, Het Leven June 19, 1937), and others.

The back of the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 has the plug in the back typical in the earliest Leica II cameras. It had been originally been created to be used with the Leica 1 Model A (introduction year 1925), Compur Leica (introduction year 1926) and Leica 1 Model C first version (introduction year 1930), all of them being non standardized models, in such a way that a skilful employee in Wetzlar could put the correct back focus through a hole in the plate enabling the use of a screwdriver from inside the camera, until 1931, year in which the back focus distance was standardized.

There are hints indicating that a high percentage of the earliest Leica II (Model D) cameras made during 1932 were built by the Leitz factory in Wetzlar using remaining bodies featuring the plugged hole on the back coming from both the second half of twenties when Leicas had not interchangeable lenses and also from the period of birth of interchangeable lenses with the Leica 1 Model C Non Standard Mount from 1930-1931, in which lenses were matched to individual cameras as the lens mount flange to film distance varied with each camera, which was individually adjusted for infinity focus, while each lens had to be matched and adjusted for each body.

The non coated and interchageable nickel Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 number 133594 manufactured in early 1932 matching the Leica II (Model D) number 90023 is historically valuable and interesting, because it was one of the first made featuring 7 o´clock infinity lock.

The earliest interchangeable nickel Leitz Elmars 5 cm f/3.5 lenses (previous fixed Elmars converted to the new screw mount able to accept different lenses by the Leitz factory in Wetzlar) had appeared in early 1931 (year of introduction of the Leica 1 Model C Standard Mount, which was the first Leica camera to sport the new so versatile mount, with a 28.8 mm distance betwen the lens mounting flange and the film plane, while the design of the Leica II was very advanced), and featured an 11 o´clock infinity lock along with bell-push release button and went on being manufactured until early 1932, but soon later in that same year, Leica changed the infinity lock of its Elmars from 11 to 7, because it had more advantages for the photographers.

The interchangeable nickel Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens number 133594 made in early 1932 with a 7 o´clock infinity lock was one of the last ones manufactured showing its serial number chiseled on the ring of noble brass under which can be seen the glass of the front element of the lens and the diaphragm blades, a trait it shares with the earlier standardized bell-push models with 11 o´clock infinity lock.

On the other hand, because of its intensive use for years, this lens features some little scratches and cleaning marks on its front element.

The Leica II (Model D) which began its production in February of 1932, was a superb camera for its time, and meant a turning point in the history of Leica rangefinder cameras, since it was one of the crowning works of the Leitz Westzlar Team directed by Oskar Barnack and the first to feature a rangefinder coupled to the focusing mechanism of the lens until two images coincide by means of the classic system of superposing into one, and though the rangefinder and viewfinder windows were not integrated between each other, the presence of the quoted rangefinder enabled the photographers to easily find the distance and accurately focus the lens, with the focusing and composing operations being made in a separate but quickly way.

On the other hand, the non coated Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens, featuring a 4 elements in 3 groups Tessar optical scheme, designed by Max Berek in 1924, rendered a huge image quality for the time and was the world benchmark in resolving power and contrast, together with the much more luminous and extraordinary for the period Mehr Licht Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 sporting 6 elements in 3 groups and Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 featuring 6 elements in 3 groups designed by Ludwig Bertele, albeit the amazing compactness of the Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 with its weight of 125 g and its exceedingly reduced dimensions also turned it into a powerful weapon for handheld shooting in sinergy with the likewise very small size and weight of the screwmount RF Leicas like the Leica II (Model D) and the Leica III (which was provided with a new dial featuring slow speeds between 1/20 sec and 1 sec, rangefinder magnification increased up to 1.5 x, strap lugs and usually coming with a Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 as a standard lens), which were used by many of the most important photojournalist in the world during thirties like Ilse Bing, Otto Umbehr, Erich Salomon, Tim Gidal, Alfred Eisenstaedt, David Seymour ´Chim´, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fred Stein, Robert Capa (who changed to Contax II with a RF base of 90 mm with magnification of 0.75x and a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 from late May 1937), Agustí Centelles, Thomas D. Mc Avoy, Jean Moral (who mostly used a medium format Rolleiflex), and others.

© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA