Robert Capa (1913-1954), [Stillman’s Gym, New York], 1937 (541.1992)
Endre Ernö Friedmann was born on October 22, 1913, on the Pest side of Budapest. The birth was marked by three exceptional circumstances: when the baby emerged from his mother’s womb, his head was still wrapped in his caul; when the caul was removed, the child was found to have so much dark hair that he looked as though he could already be several months old; and he had an extra little finger on one hand. His mother and her friends interpreted these aberrations as signs that the child would grow up to be a famous man. He did indeed – not as Endre Friedmann but as Robert Capa. –“Robert Capa, a Biography,” Richard Whelan, 1985, p. 3
To commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Robert Capa this post presents several photos made in 1937 at Stillman’s Gym in New York City. Capa came to New York at the end of the summer of 1937, shortly after the death of Gerda Taro in Spain, to see his mother, Julia, and brother, Cornell, and to make business arrangements. One fortuitous result of this visit was that the PIX photo agency agreed to hire Cornell to work in its darkrooms. While in New York, at the suggestion of editors at Life magazine, Capa photographed an American Legion parade and Stillman’s Gym (919 Eighth Avenue). (Although world-renowned for the famous and successful boxers that trained there, the gym is often described as hot, noisy, grimy, and unsanitary.) Apparently the Life editors weren’t satisfied with Capa’s first photos at Stillmans, mainly portraits of still men in existing light, because he didn’t use flash in the sometimes dark and often cigar and cigarette smoke-filled gym, where the windows were never opened, so he returned with flashbulbs and fellow Hungarian photographer André Kertész provided technical assistance. The photographer, not yet fluent in English, and the boxers were young and in the early stages of their careers. The Stillman’s story never ran in Life, nevertheless, 80 years after they were made, the photos are still a knockout.