Issue #145  7/1/2008
Cornell Capa, Photographer and Founding Director of NYC's International Center of Photography, Passes Away

Cornell Capa was often overshadowed by his famous brother Robert, but by all rights this towering figure in photography made vastly more important contributions to the field. Capa passed away May 23rd. If his only accomplishment had been the launch of the highly influential International Center of Photography in New York City in 1974, he would be revered in the photo world, but he did so much more for photography. Himself a talented LIFE magazine staff photographer and former president of Magnum (which his brother helped to found), Capa coined the term "concerned photographer" and created the International Fund for Concerned Photography to keep alive the work of important photojournalists.

Cornell Capa photographed missionaries and poverty in Latin America and covered politics throughout the U.S., including his classic studies of Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.

My one meeting with Cornell was when I went to bring him some photographs of his brother's as a donation and to ask him if he could sign a couple of his own photographs, including one of his great images of Kennedy, that I had picked up at my local flea market. After grilling me on where I got them and then reluctantly signing both, he gruffly told me that I couldn't use the copyright on the Kennedy one, but I could do what I wanted with the lesser of the images. I came away from our session with an impression of a man that clearly safeguarded his brother's legacy and who would find a way to get the job done no matter what. It took such a man to launch the ICP from nothingness.

Capa, of course, also photographed the lyricism of the Bolshoi Ballet, and the quirkiness of American and British life; and his documentation of old age in America showed us that photographic images have the power to change the way we look at the world.

But, of course, he will be remembered for the International Center of Photography. He had not only launched this ambitious project, but, by the time of his retirement in 1994, ICP had shown over 425 exhibitions in New York and abroad, had hosted photographers from around the world in lectures, workshops and symposia; established two successive satellite branches, in midtown Manhattan and one in the Wall Street area, retired the long standing deficit from ICP's under-capitalized start, and inaugurated a world famous Annual Awards event, "The Infinity Awards" (now in its 21st year), to recognize outstanding achievements in photography internationally. On his retirement, he was named Founding Director Emeritus, and the most prestigious Infinity Award was named in his honor.

Capa's burial was private, but a memorial service will be held on September 10th at 10 a.m. at the Times Center at 242 West 41st St. in Manhattan. Contributions in memory of Cornell Capa may be made to the Cornell Capa Legacy Project/International Center of Photography, 114 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036; or by calling Chuck Ferrero at 1-212-857-0036.