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, 1934

IV. To International Fame

(1935 – 1952)

The world's emotions, captured in elegance

During his stay in New York in 1935, Henri Cartier-Bresson comes into contact with Paul Strand (1880 – 1976). At that time the photographer, to whom he pays a lot of respect, is engaged in shooting a movie and it triggers Cartier-Bresson to also convert himself to the moving image. Back in France, he asks the French filmmaker Jean Renoir (1894 – 1979) to work as a second assistant for the filming of La Vie est à Nous (1936). Besides actors, leaders of the Communist party appear on the silver screen too. Therefore, this film, which is shot for the Front Populaire, is leaning towards the growing sympathy of Cartier-Bresson for Communism.

FIG.12<br>La partie de campagne, E. Lotar/Magnum Photos<br>France, 1936

La partie de campagne, E. Lotar/Magnum Photos
France, 1936

Later in 1936, Renoir hires Cartier-Bresson again, this time as an assistant director for the filming of La Partie de Campagne. Here Cartier-Bresson makes his first appearance as an actor: to make him experience what it feels like to stand in front of the camera, Renoir casts him as a young priest in a short scene (FIG.12).

During the politically turbulent 1930s — in Germany and Italy fascism is on the rise — Cartier-Bresson feels obliged to act in the foreground and add, as a filmmaker, his own contribution to the political scene of that time. In 1937 he shoots Victoire de la Vie, a documentary about the civil war in Spain that matches the photo series he made earlier in Madrid and Valencia in 1933. Especially the opening scene, with children playing in the streets of Madrid, shows great similarities with Cartier-Bresson's photographic style. The images are carefully composed and drawn from life.

Note that film never became a real passion for Cartier-Bresson. His participation in the films of Renoir should rather be viewed as a temporary alternative, a snack between the « everyday » photographing and another way to immortalize the world. Also with the films he would be directing later on, Cartier-Bresson never really aspired to great fame.

FIG.13<br>Coronation of George VI, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>London, United Kingdom, 1937

Coronation of George VI, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
London, United Kingdom, 1937

Meanwhile, Cartier-Bresson of course continues to work as a renowned photographer. Typical of his role in influencing the traditional press photography, is the set of photos he makes during the coronation of King George VI in 1937. Instead of capturing the coronation itself, like his colleagues, he photographs the frenzied mass (FIG.13). The picture above also demonstrates the subtle humor present in some of Cartier-Bresson's pictures. Under the dangling legs of the neatly dressed spectators, he grants us a glimpse of a man who is sleeping off his drunkenness among a sea of newspapers, perhaps after having partied a little too exuberant.

Nevertheless, Cartier-Bresson comes back in action in 1939 as the second assistant during the filming of La Règle du Jeu by Jean Renoir. By now, however, Cartier-Bresson realizes that giving orders to actors doesn't fit him well. He also finds the lack of spontaneity and the meticulous preparation that precedes every film somewhat disturbing.

FIG.14<br>Gandhi's funeral, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Delhi, India, 1948

Gandhi's funeral, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Delhi, India, 1948

In 1940, at the outbreak of World War II, Henri Cartier-Bresson is incorporated into the French army. That same year, he is captured by the German occupier. For three years he can't make a single photograph. In February 1943, at his third attempt, he succeeds in escaping from the German prison camp. He flees to Paris where he joins the resistance. Meanwhile, he makes a lot of portraits of artists like Matisse, Bonnard and Picasso.

Commissioned by the Office of War Information from the USA, Cartier-Bresson directs Le Retour, a documentary about the homecoming of French prisoners of war, in 1945. Furthermore, he manages to capture the liberation of Paris on film and frames the world famous photograph on the unmasking of a German informant in the Dessau prison camp. This picture is included in the section The Decisive Moment.

Since rumors that Cartier-Bresson has been killed during the war persist to circulate in the USA, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York starts to organize a posthumous exhibition. Fortunately, Cartier-Bresson is able to travel to New York himself in 1946 to help with the setting up of the exhibition, which opens its doors in 1947. That same year, the MoMA publishes the first book containing his work: The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The book is not written by Cartier-Bresson himself.

FIG.15<br>Traffic jam on the Suzhou canal, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Shanghai, China, 1948

Traffic jam on the Suzhou canal, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Shanghai, China, 1948

Also in that year — on May 22, 1947 to be exact — he founds the critically acclaimed Magnum, together with Robert Capa, David « Chim » Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. This photo agency, one of the first of its kind, aims to create more breathing space for the photographers in the choice of their subjects and in their implementation. Since they no longer depend on an editor in chief, the press photographers are indeed less restricted to keeping up with the immediate topicality. Moreover, in a message to his colleagues at Magnum, Cartier-Bresson insists that it is their intention to let the pictures speak for themselves, to keep the legends to the pictures strictly informational and not to lapse into sentimental captions.

Vandivert leaves Magnum in 1948, and the four remaining founders divide, as it were, the world among themselves, with Cartier-Bresson taking care of the Asian continent. This way, between 1948 and 1950, he undertakes a journey to the Far East where he calls at (inter alia) India, China and Indonesia. In India he arrives just in time for a final encounter with Mahatma Gandhi, barely one hour before his death. Besides the subdued portraits he may make of Gandhi, he is able to photograph the mad scenes during Gandhi's cremation, a few days later (FIG.14).

He travels on to China where he arrives during the takeover by the Communist regime in 1948. Besides the boisterous political situation, he also realizes some very geometric pictures, for instance in the above picture in a fishing port (FIG.15). Furthermore, during his stay in China, he plunges deeper into Buddhism. Especially the Buddhist belief to minimize the disruption of nature fascinates him and brings him a respect for reality that is often in stark contrast to the surreal vision in his earlier pictures.

Although his photographs from the Eastern culture are more than decent, critics sometimes moot that, away from his native France, his hand is less accurate.

FIG.16<br>Ile de la Cité, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1951

Ile de la Cité, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Paris, France, 1951

That Cartier-Bresson will never forget his training as a painter, is evident from his photograph of the Ile de la Cité in Paris, dating from 1951 (FIG.16). The symmetrical structure of the image, the reflection in the calm waters and the soft black and white tones work very picturesque and make it difficult to say, especially in large format, whether we are dealing with a drawing or a photo.

Another classic from Cartier-Bresson's work is the picture of a boy who runs through the center of Paris with two bottles of wine in his hands (FIG.17). Strangely, this Rue Mouffetard became a photo where critics incessantly spun around profound theories — with alcoholism being just one of them — while Cartier-Bresson probably conceived the photo purely as an image of a carefree child, beaming in front of a camera.

FIG.17<br>Rue Mouffetard, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos<br>Paris, France, 1952

Rue Mouffetard, H. Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Paris, France, 1952

In the early 1950s, Cartier-Bresson already is a household name in artistic circles and for the numerous readers of the magazines in which his photos are published. He hasn't put a famous book on the shelves with his name on yet, though. What's more: until then Cartier-Bresson himself hasn't published a single book! In 1952, this will change drastically with the publication of his Images à la Sauvette.

FIG.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: The Decisive Moment (1952) }
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