FIG.1<br>Landscape near Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, J.N. Niépce<br>France, 1827

I. HCB's Early Life

(1908 – 1925)

Growing up in the French bourgeoisie

Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne, August 22, 1908. At about thirty miles from Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the eldest of five children, is born in the wealthy textile family of the Cartier-Bresson's (FIG.2). His parents are so sparse that Henri, as a little boy, now and then thinks he's poor, although in practice he gets everthing he needs.

 
FIG.2<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson and his parents, Magnum Photos<br>Chanteloup, France, 1909

FIG.2
Henri Cartier-Bresson and his parents, Magnum Photos
Chanteloup, France, 1909

Soon painting captures the heart of the little Henri. When he's five, he first visits the studio of his uncle, Louis Cartier-Bresson, who will perish at the front some years later. In the few interviews he gives, Cartier-Bresson sometimes called Louis his mythical father. Here he sniffs the atmosphere of painting – an experience he will never let go.


“La peinture est mon obsession depuis le temps où ce père mythique, le frère de mon père, m'emmenait dans sons atelier. La, je vivais dans une atmosphère de peinture, je reniflais les toiles.”


Henri Cartier-Bresson

He takes classes at the Ecole Fénelon, a strict Catholic school, where nevertheless he already devours the works of Rimbaud, Proust, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer at a very young age. All these elements give him the broad world view which will enable him later to immortalize, as one of the first of his time, everyday scenes in a major way. To no surprise, Cartier-Bresson is often considered a humanist.

Although his father, who wants Henri to continue the family business, forces him to start his HEC (Hautes Etudes Commerciales), Henri manages to fail the academic training three times. This way, he does away with the ambitions of his parents. He wants, however, to become an art painter, just like his uncle. Not really a new thing for the Cartier-Bresson's, since both his father and grandfather painted in their sparetime too. Moreover, since he was twelve, Henri followed painting classes once a week.

 
FIG.3<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson with his camera, Magnum Photos<br>Chanteloup, France, ca. 1920

FIG.3
Henri Cartier-Bresson with his camera, Magnum Photos
Chanteloup, France, ca. 1920

Meanwhile Henri Cartier-Bresson already experiments occasionally with photography, but rather as specimens for his paintings than with the intention to deliver finished pictures (FIG.3). Note also that, although Cartier-Bresson will sympathize with communist ideas during the 1930s and, through his work, will rebel against the richness of the textile business from his father, it is exactly the very same wealth which allows him to experiment with photography on a more individual level than his contemporaries, now but also later on. Indeed, in the 1920s photography still is an expensive affair.



FIG.4<br>Studio of André Lhote, H. Cartier-Bresson<br>France, 1927FIG.5<br>Three boys in Lake Tanganyika, M. Munkácsi<br>Congo, 1930FIG.6<br>Wandering violinist, A. Kertész<br>Abony, Hungary, 1921FIG.7<br>Ghetto, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Warsaw, Poland, 1931FIG.8<br>H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Valencia, Spain, 1933FIG.9<br>H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Brussels, Belgium, 1932FIG.10<br>H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Asilah, Morocco, 1933FIG.11<br>H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Santa Clara, Mexico, 1934FIG.12<br>La partie de campagne, E. Lotar/Magnum Photos<br>France, 1936FIG.13<br>Coronation of George VI, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>London, United Kingdom, 1937FIG.14<br>Gandhi's funeral, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Delhi, India, 1948FIG.15<br>Traffic jam on the Suzhou canal, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Shanghai, China, 1948FIG.16<br>Ile de la Cité, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1951FIG.17<br>Rue Mouffetard, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1952FIG.18<br>Behind the Saint-Lazare station, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1932FIG.19<br>During the liberation of the transit camp, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Dessau, Germany, 1945FIG.20<br>Agglutinated Chinese for the distribution of gold, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Shanghai, China, 1949FIG.21<br>Robert Flaherty, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Louisiana, United States, 1947FIG.22<br>François Mauriac, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1952FIG.23<br>Self-portrait, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Italy, 1933FIG.24<br>Lenin on the Winter Palace, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Leningrad, Soviet Union, 1973FIG.25<br>Model prison of Leesburg, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>New Jersey, United States, 1975FIG.26<br>Self-portrait, H. Cartier-Bresson<br>1987FIG.27<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson, M. Franck/Magnum Photos<br>Provence, Frankrijk, 1979FIG.28<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson drawing his self-portrait, M. Franck/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1992FIG.29<br>Salvador Dali, D. Bailey<br>Paris, France, 1972FIG.30<br>H. Levitt<br>New York, United States, 1940FIG.31<br>W. Eggleston<br>United States, ca. 1980FIG.32<br>H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Georgia, Soviet Union, 1972 { Printer-friendly version } { Read on: Influences (1925 – 1931) }
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