In 1932, a young photographer named Ansel Adams sought to lay down the law: “the artist must have a clear and complete conception of the final effects of the print before he operates the shutter of his lens’’ (Adams’s italics). That same year, a slightly younger photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, took what may be the emblematic photograph of his career, if it isn’t too absurd to reduce a career as fecund and dazzling to a single image. In doing so, he took the law into his own hands.
The hunter and his prey
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs are on show in New York until June 28th
ALL IT takes to be a photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, is “one finger, one eye and two legs”. He visualised photography as a way of engaging with the world. He quietly stalked his subjects—Balinese dancers, Mongolian wrestlers, New York bankers—until that “decisive moment” when the right composition filled the frame. It all came so naturally. He rarely used a light meter or checked his aperture setting, and he seldom took more than a few shots of a single subject. With the instinct of a hunter, he knew when to click the shutter: “I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life—to preserve life in the act of living.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was a taker of great photographs. Some three hundred of them make for an almost unendurably majestic retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, from his famous portly puddle-jumper of 1932 (“Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris”) to views of Native Americans in Gallup, New Mexico, in 1971, one of his last visual essays as the globe-trotting heavyweight champion of photojournalism. Nearly every picture displays the classical panache—the fullness, the economy—of a painting by Poussin. Any half-dozen of them would have engraved their author’s name in history. Resistance to the work is futile, if quality is our criterion, but inevitable, I think, on other grounds.
A Photographer Whose Beat Was the World
The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson is the subject of a handsome and large — though surely not anywhere near large enough — retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
Rarely has the phrase “man of the world” been more aptly applied than to the protean photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, the subject of a handsome and large — though surely not anywhere near large enough — retrospective opening at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday.
H.C.-B.: The Invisible Man
By Jim Hughes More than any other practitioner, I think, Henri Cartier-Bresson has defined the art of small-camera photography. Defying categorization (that bane of any true original), H.C.-B., neither photojournalist nor documentarian, seemingly traverse
"You must not photograph me!" he shrieked, his English suddenly crystal-clear. "No one is allowed to photograph me! Everyone must know that..."
The Museum of Modern Art will present Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, the first major retrospective in the U.S. in more than 30 years of one of photography's most original and influential masters, from April 11 through June 28, 2010.
Photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans: America exposed |guardian.co.uk:
In 2001, Henri Cartier-Bresson reflected on the long moment in the early 1940s when he had briefly considered turning from photography to film-making. “If it had not been for the challenge of the work of Walker Evans,” he wrote, “I don’t think I would have remained a photographer.”
It’s this quote that provides the epigraph for Photographing America 1929-1947, a fascinating book that focuses on these two masters of 20th-century photography.
AMERICANSUBURB X: THEORY: “Words by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1973)”:
I’ve been taking pictures when I was very young. I think I don’t remember what age. I started by painting and drawing and for me photography was a mean of drawing and that’s all. Immediate sketch done with intuition and you can’t correct it. If you have to correct it it’s your next picture. But life is very fluid. Well sometimes the pictures disappeared and there is nothing you can do. You can’t tell the person, oh, please smile again do that gesture again. Life is once, forever.
David Burnett says:
There is a story, probably true, about two well known Magnum photographers, a story going back a couple of decades, I’m sure. Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of Magnum, was greeting Bruno Barbey, just five years older than myself, at one of the meetings in Paris. The two embraced in that modern European manner, hands about each other’s torso, when suddenly Cartier’s hands went from a gentle touch to something more akin to a frisk. And within a few seconds, he pushed back from Bruno, and exhorted, “But where is your CAMERA?!”
“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.”
Check it out here.
In 1932 the young Henri Cartier-Bresson, lately returned from Africa, saw a photograph of African children charging into waves on a beach. “I must say that it is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to fireworks,” he recalled years later. “I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said, ‘Damn it,’ took my camera and went out into the street.” What Cartier-Bresson produced during the next few years, as the curator Peter Galassi once wrote, became “one of the great, concentrated episodes in modern art.”
How much the African photograph actually shaped this work is debatable, but it struck a chord. It epitomized the combination of serendipity and joie de vivre that Cartier-Bresson admired: three naked boys, their silhouettes against white spray and sun-drenched water, making a perfect geometry.
The man who shot the picture was Martin Munkacsi. Hungarian-born, a star of Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, the leading illustrated German newsmagazine, Munkacsi was then one of the most celebrated photojournalists. He reached a pinnacle of fame and fortune in New York later that decade, claiming to be the highest-paid photographer in the world (he was notoriously self-mythologizing), revolutionizing the American fashion magazine under Carmel Snow and Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar.
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From This Decisive Moment On
New show of portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson addresses issue of how his increasing fame impacted photographs he took of other famous people; show, at Cartier-Bresson Foundation in New York City, reflects power dynamic between photographer and subject; p
Jerome Liebling, a photographer, filmmaker and teacher, died Wednesday at 87. Obituaries appear on the Web sites of The New York Times, The Daily Hampshire Gazette and Hampshire College, where his students included James Estrin, now a staff photographer at The Times and a co-editor of Lens.