Cornell Capa was born Cornell Friedmann to a Jewish family in Budapest. In 1936 he moved to Paris, where his brother Andre (Robert Capa) was working as a photojournalist. He worked as his brother's printer until 1937, then moved to New York to join the new Pix photo agency. In 1938 he began working in the Life darkroom. Soon his first photo-story - on the New York World's Fair - was published in Picture Post.
In 1946, after serving in the US Air Force, Cornell became a Life staff photo- grapher. After his brother's death in 1954, he joined Magnum, and when David 'Chim' Seymour died in Suez in 1956, Capa took over as president of Magnum, a post he held until 1960.
Capa made an empathetic, pioneering study of mentally retarded children in 1954, and covered other social issues, such as old age in America. He also explored his own religious tradition. While working for Life, Capa made the first of several Latin American trips. These continued through the 1970s and culminated in three books, among them Farewell to Eden (1964), a study of the destruction of indigenous Amazon cultures.
Capa covered the electoral campaigns of John and Robert Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Nelson Rockefeller, among others. His 1969 book, New Breed on Wall Street, was a landmark study of a generation of ruthless young entrepreneurs keen on making money and spending it fast.
In 1974 Capa founded New York City's influential International Center of Photography, to which for many years he dedicated much of his considerable energy as its director.