Close-up: Gerda Taro

Exposed at last: the tragic tale of a pioneering female photojournalist
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The Independent Online

All photography is a form of editing. By pointing a camera in a particular direction, a photographer selects a version of reality to present to the world. It is intriguing to imagine, then, what Gerda Taro, one of the 20th century's greatest photojournalists and the first female reporter known to have died in battle, might make of the way she has been airbrushed out of history.

Amazingly, the retrospective that opens in London this month represents the first major exhibition of the German photographer's work since her death on the frontline of the Spanish Civil War at the age of 26. On display will be Taro's dramatic battle images, as well as her emotive portrayals of civilian casualties.

Looking at them, it's hard to fathom why they, like Taro's name, have languished for so long. The answer lies in a simultaneous Barbican exhibition, focusing on the work of her collaborator and lover, the man dubbed "the greatest war photographer in the world", Robert Capa. Taro's relationship with Capa, whom she met in Paris in 1933, was to prove the undoing of her legacy.

Together, Gerda Pohorylle and Andre Friedmann, as the couple were then called, had invented an American photographer, "Robert Capa", under whose name they could sell their pictures at higher prices than those commanded by Jewish émigrés. Eventually, Friedmann assumed the name himself, and Pohorylle became Taro.

It was during a solo trip to Spain in 1937 that Taro was hit by a Loyalist tank. Her funeral drew tens of thousands on to the streets of Paris, but as years passed and Capa's reputation soared, her work was overlooked. Articles began to refer to her as "Capa's wife". One person, however, never forgot her: despite affairs with stars such as Ingrid Bergman, Capa never married, confessing that with Taro's death, his own life "came to a kind of end".

'Gerda Taro' is at the Barbican Art Gallery from 17 October–25 January 2009, www.barbican.org.uk

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