Splendor in the Grass

Robert Capa, [Workers on a lunch break during a strike, Saint-Ouen, near Paris], May or June 1936

Robert Capa took this photograph in an industrial suburb of Paris during the strikes that rocked the country in the spring of 1936. Following the election of the Front Populaire—a coalition of French leftist parties lead by Leon Blum—came a revolutionary wave of popular self- liberation and self-celebration. Its slogan was “Paix, Pain, Liberté” (“Peace, Bread, Liberty”). From many of the photographs taken during that time by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, Chim, or Robert Capa, emanates an utter feeling of freedom. These photographers were actually taking an active part in this historical social movement, and newly created leftist magazines such as Regards, published their pictures abundantly. These were the golden days of the French left and of the bicycle.

This ménage à trois looks like a scene in a Renoir movie, or a pre-war Jules et Jim. Its naturalist streak makes it such an emblematic icon of the times. Its bucolic grace and peacefulness are only made stronger by its melodious, cascade-like composition. The woman with the white blouse, with her inviting gaze, gives this sociopolitical image a delightful, sensual tone. The fact that Robert Capa took this photograph, makes it even more delectable. Such an incredible lightness of being.  In May or June of 1936, Endre Friedman had only just become Robert Capa and had not yet started covering the Spanish Civil War. Two years later, Picture Post ennobled him as “The Greatest War-Photographer in the World.”  This photograph reveals the “other” Capa—out of the war—and his virtuosic ability to picture life and the many faces of humanity.

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