In 1952, I took some photos of the Tignes dam and Henri-Cartier-Bresson told me, “You’re a good photographer, but if you want to join Magnum, you’ll have to see Capa.”
So I met Capa, who took me under his wing, without any lectures, but with a hearty pat on the back and an immediate order: “Go live in London. You’re too shy, you’ll see girls and you’ll learn English.” So I spent a year in London, and I didn’t see the girls and I didn’t learn English, but I did take thousands of photos.
Capa liked me. He called me, he came to see me in London and brought me money. I was still intimidated by the journalists and other photographers, and Capa gently showed me the ropes and gave me tips and contacts.
One day in 1954 Len Spooner, the editor of Picture Post, the popular English magazine then in vogue, called on him at his hotel. He was working on an issue for the ten-year anniversary of the D Day landings. I was there, and Capa said, “You should use my photo of D Day. “Impossible”, Spooner replied, “we’re doing this issue in color.” Capa’s famous photos of Omaha Beach were in black and white. But his black and white photos were published. He had such charisma, he was irresistible. That is how he got me my first assignment in Leeds, again with Len Spooner, who was working at the time on a major series about English cities. The series was already done, but Capa insisted. All that’s left is Leeds, Spooner told him. “That’s perfect,” Capa answered. “Leeds is the most depressing city in England, and Marc is from Lyon, the most depressing city in France.” And Spooner gave in.
When I returned from Leeds a month later, I went to Spooner’s office to give him my films. The first thing he said was “Capa is dead.”
I had only been at Magnum for two years, but like all the other photographers, I felt like an orphan.