Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson



Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908 in Chanteloup, France. Throughout his childhood, Cartier-Bresson was interested in the arts. He was influenced by his father, a respected and wealthy textile merchant and his uncle, an accomplished painter. As a young boy Cartier-Bresson read the literature of the day by authors such as Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Proust, and Joyce. In addition to literature, he intensely studied painting.


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With his newfound interest, he began traveling the world. Africa, Eastern Europe and Mexico were the places where one of the twentieth centuries’ most traveled photographers journeyed. The majority of his work was commissioned and sent to magazines for publication, but Cartier-Bresson was dedicated to the art of photography and was also exhibited in several galleries, the first being the Julian Levy Gallery in New York. Before the Second World War, he worked on films with Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, and Andre Zvoboda. He also worked on documentary films in Spain. With the onset of war, Cartier-Bresson entered the French military as a photographer.

Captured in Germany in 1937, three attempts and three years later, he escaped. This experience colored a new perception on life, a new appreciation of people. Thus, he began a new photographic series of portraiture. Over the years, Cartier-Bresson’s portraiture has been re-examined and is now considered one of his most successful portfolios. Tete a Tete is a publication of Cartier-Bresson’s portraiture. If, in making a portrait, you hope to grasp the interior silence of a willing victim, it’s very difficult, but you must somehow position the camera between his shirt and his skin. Success in portraiture is often measured by how well the photographer captures the spirit of the sitter, and it came naturally for Cartier-Bresson.

After the war, he joined the NMPGD, the French Underground Photographers’ Association, and continued to submit works to magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vu. Cartier-Bresson had remained true to the surrealist thought until 1947, then influenced by Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson changed his overall vision and approach to photojournalism. This was not such a dramatic departure from the first 15 years of photographic work, which had been documenting moments in everyday life. The picture-story involves a joint operation of the brain, the eye, and the heart. The objective of this joint operation is to depict the content of some event, which is in the process of unfolding, and to communicate impressions. Sometimes a single event can be so rich in itself and its facets that it is necessary to move all around it in your search for the solution to the problems it poses—for the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.

Photojournalism, at its peak during the early- to-mid 1900s posed problems of its own. The demand by magazines for photographers to record the events and people of the world grew tremendously at the turn of the century. It became big business, and with big business came complications for photographers. Most magazines, either through commissions or freelance, required the photographer to give up the rights to their images submitted. In response, with Capa, Bill Vandivert, George Rodger and David Seymour “Chim”, Cartier-Bresson became one of the founding members of Magnum. It was and still is an organization that maintains the rights of photographers who submit images to magazines. The organization currently has four offices: London, New York, Paris, Tokyo. It consists of nearly 60 photographers who work with publications around the world. From that point on, Cartier-Bresson continued his photography reportage with travels to China, Indonesia, India, Burma, Pakistan, the USSR, Cuba, and the US. By the 1970s, he began to divert his attention to painting. During these later years, residing in France, he has authored or has been the subject of several books, The Mind’s Eye, Portfolio, Tete a Tete, Mexican Notebooks, Masters of Photography, A Propos de Paris, and many more. Henri Cartier-Bresson has received numerous exhibitions, awards, prizes and honorary doctorates for his original vision in photography. In a world that is buckling under the weight of profit-making, that is overrun by the destructive sirens of Techno-science and the power-hunger of globalization—that new brand of slavery—beyond all that, Friendship exists, Love exists.

By Lori Oden For IPHF