Henri Cartier-Bresson

(1908 – 2004)

When photography becomes art

The 20th century can be regarded as the one in which images conquered the world. Although one assumes that the first image, as we still know it more or less today, was already realized in 1827 (FIG.1) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833), it would take until the end of the 19th century before the « writing with light » was on the verge and the technique itself allowed the user to concentrate mainly on composition.

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

Landscape near Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, J.N. Niépce
France, 1827

Nevertheless, this relatively new medium was burdened by its revolutionary character and unprecedented approach to reality. The influential British critic John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) for example, accused photography of not being able to express the personality and soul of an artist. According to Ruskin, photography even was a threat to the Fine Arts.

We had to wait until the interwar period, when a new vision on photography emerged. Due to the enormous growth of the mass media, especially newspapers and magazines, one could indeed increasingly focus on a new style, press photography, and reject the hitherto usual scientifical war and portrait photography, where the camera was merely considered to be an objective recorder. Under the influence of the surrealism that came up in Paris around 1920, a platform was created for photographers who wished to display some social aspects of society and express deeper thoughts through free association.

It is in this context that we have to situate the generation of photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) was part of. Thanks to them, photography itself was bound to flourish throughout the 20th century and settle between traditional art forms like painting and sculpture.


“Si, en faisant un portrait, on espère saisir le silence intérieur d'une victime consentante, il est très difficile de lui introduire entre la chemise et la peau un appareil photographique. Quant au portrait au crayon, c'est au dessinateur d'avoir un silence intérieur.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

This website is a modest overview of Henri Cartier-Bresson's life and photographic work, but — to a lesser extent — also of his inspirational sources, the evolution of his worldview and its implications on his work, the return to his first love (drawing) and the effects his relatively innovative approach to photography had on his contemporaries and descendants. The structure is deliberately kept chronologically because his work is closely interwoven with his life.

After his death on August 3, 2004, Henri Cartier-Bresson, also called HCB in short, left us with almost 700,000 photos. Inevitably, we had to navigate selectively through this considerable archive. Obviously some of his most famous and typical prints are discussed, but we also made room for some lesser known work, which doesn't fall short of his genius — quite the contrary.

Finally, our main aim is to let the pictures speak for themselves. It is well known that Cartier-Bresson hated editors who, while sitting at their desk, tried to summarize in words what his eyes had seen and experienced in far-away countries. Enjoy!

FIG.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, 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: HCB's Early Life (1908 – 1925) }
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