Robert Capa, [American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day, Normandy, France], June 6, 1944
Although Capa’s D-Day photograph of a GI, Huston S. Riley, emerging from the surf (above) did not win a Pulitzer Prize, it and the rest of Capa’s D-Day coverage was chosen by New York University’s journalism department as the twentieth-seventh most distinguished works of twentieth-century American journalism. This pictorial essay beat out Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photograph as well as Capa’s own Spanish Civil War images.
Capa, assigned to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, was part of the second group of the first wave of landings on Omaha Beach. According to Richard Whelan, Capa’s biographer, the photographer was carrying three cameras on June 6, 1944—two Contaxes and a Rolleiflex. He used the 35mm Contaxes to capture images of the beach invasion and only used the Rollei to document the preparations and aftermath of the attack. The film from all three cameras, including four rolls of 35mm film, were sent to London to be cleared by Army censors and then sent on to the Life offices in London. Working under extreme pressure, the magazine’s editors wanted to get the images into the June 19 issue of Life. In the rush, the lab assistant put all four rolls of 35mm film in the drying cabinet and turned up the heat. Unfortunately, the lack of air circulation caused the emulsion to melt off three of the four rolls. Only eleven images from the fourth roll remained; the slightly melted emulsion blurred the images and also made some of the sprocket holes visible, as seen in the third image above. None of the Rollei images were destroyed.
These and other amazing details about Capa’s D-Day adventures can be found in Whelan’s exhibition catalogue, This Is War! Robert Capa at Work.