FIG.1<br>Landscape near Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, J.N. Niépce<br>France, 1827FIG.2<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson and his parents, Magnum Photos<br>Chanteloup, France, 1909FIG.3<br>Henri Cartier-Bresson with his camera, Magnum Photos<br>Chanteloup, France, ca. 1920FIG.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, 1949

VI. Portraits By Cartier-Bresson

(1952 – 1974)

In search for the soul

Among the many one-liners he poured out during his rare interviews, there is a quote which finds Cartier-Bresson saying that "portraits are the only thing in which photography surpasses painting". He attributes this to the fact that ancient artists were often discouraged by the many details in the appearances they should reproduce, while photographers can concentrate on the core business: digging for the soul. At the beginning of a portrait session with Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) she asks Cartier-Bresson: "Combien de temps ça va prendre?" The photographer delicately replies: "Un peu plus que chez le dentiste, un peu moins que chez le psychanalyste."

FIG.21<br>Robert Flaherty, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Louisiana, United States, 1947

Robert Flaherty, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Louisiana, United States, 1947

While making portraits Cartier-Bresson manages to ease his subjects. He lets them talk freely and then, at the appropriate moment, he fires the shutter. Often, he asks a question and just before the answer, he clicks. His goal, as it were, is to put the camera between the clothes and the skin of a person.

An aesthetically appealing portrait (FIG.21) is the one of filmmaker Robert Flaherty (1884 – 1951). His somewhat stiff attitude seems very natural and the light casts a dramatic feeling over his figure. The expressive shadows prove the lack of a flash. Besides cropping, artificial light was also a no-go for Henri Cartier-Bresson, although it should be mentioned too that, in the 1950s, flash photography was still rather cumbersome.

FIG.22<br>François Mauriac, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1952

François Mauriac, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Paris, France, 1952

It is definitely no coincidence that Cartier-Bresson mainly immortalized writers and painters — except for actors, who ceaselessly tended to pose. This way, he was able to get closer to all those « true » artists he respected so much (FIG.22).

In 1966 Henri Cartier-Bresson leaves Magnum. He admits that he can no longer live up to the pressure of constantly delivering and that he has difficulties with the marketing policy of the agency. In his opinion, he had told the world all he ever wanted to — as a photographer, that is. Looking back, he even thought he should have resigned two years earlier. Although many of his kindred Magnum spirits died over the years, the agency remains a safehaven for high-standard socially-driven photojournalism. Magnum also still manages Cartier-Bresson's licensing.

FIG.23<br>Self-portrait, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Italy, 1933

Self-portrait, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Italy, 1933

It is no secret that Henri Cartier-Bresson shunned media attention and wanted to be reminded for his pictures rather than for his interviews. And what's more: although he photographed thousands of people, he himself was very difficult to capture on film. Photographic selfportraits of him are very rare: only three such portraits are known. The most subtle one, undoubtedly, dates back to 1933 (FIG.23). We only see a part of his chest, his legs and his feet. This photo — originally perhaps nothing more than a humorous doodle — became a symbol for Cartier-Bresson's self-questioning way of life. Moreover, the portrait is a small homage to the feet that would bring him all around the world during the next seventy years.

After getting divorced in 1967 from his first partner, the Javanese Ratna Mohini (1904 – 1988) with whom he was married since 1937, Cartier-Bresson marries the Belgian photographer Martine Franck (1938 – 2012) in 1970. This second marriage spawns his only child, their daughter Mélanie, in 1972. Franck herself succeeds in establishing her own name and photographic style, and will become a full member of Magnum in 1983.

FIG.24<br>Lenin on the Winter Palace, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Leningrad, Soviet Union, 1973

Lenin on the Winter Palace, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Leningrad, Soviet Union, 1973

As mentioned in the prologue, in 1954 Henri Cartier-Bresson was the first foreign photographer to be admitted to the Soviet Union. In 1972, he returns to the USSR where he seizes the perspective game above (FIG.24). Typical, once again, are the reccuring geometrical shapes (as discussed earlier in Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare), and the contrast between the authoritarian Lenin and the innocent father-with-child.

FIG.25<br>Model prison of Leesburg, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>New Jersey, United States, 1975

Model prison of Leesburg, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
New Jersey, United States, 1975

One of his last known photographs is a rather experimental portrait of a prisoner in an isolation cell in New Jersey (FIG.25). It is probably one of Cartier-Bresson's most atypical pictures, more closely related to the « cool » style of contemporary photographers than to his expressive street photography we got so accustomed to. Still, truly « modern » photos, which got artificially reworked in the darkroom, never interested him. Moreover, at exhibitions his photographs are invariably presented with a black outline, so the visitors see exactly the same thing Cartier-Bresson did through the black framed viewfinder of his Leica.

FIG.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: Back To The First Love (1974 – 2004) }
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