Henri Cartier Bresson Photo Essay

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A lot of possibilities lie within this frame for who comes with an open eye, an open mind, and an open heart.

Sensitivity, knowledge, experience, and imagination are the tools that we were given to work within that frame and make most of the world within it, make sense, establish relationships, move and be moved, express ourselves. In a post-WW II world where existentialism was being defined as humanism under Jean-Paul Sartre’s pen, could there be a better challenge and a better practice than that of the “decisive moment”.

But here stops another biographical obituary on Cartier-Bresson, just another one in the plethora of articles and essays that have been published on the subject in the past weeks, and across the world.

At this point, as a photo-historian and a photographer, I would also like to give my respectful testimony on the impact that HCB’s work at large has had on photography, and on our visual culture.

That same year Cartier-Bresson had to leave Africa, where he had been working as a safari guide, because of a life-threatening case of black fever. The tool gave the photographer the versatility, discretion, speed, and control that matched his character.

Cartier-Bresson gave it his eye and mind trained by the cubist painter Andre Lhote, and his experience as a hunter in Africa.86) he mentions, while recalling the documentary video that Sarah Moon made about him: “My notoriety is a heavy load: I refuse to be a standard bearer.I have spent my whole life trying to be inconspicuous in order to observe better.” Beyond his photographic œuvre, and as a disclaimer to his alleged desire to remain unknown, if Cartier-Bresson must be remembered, it is as a co-founder in 1947 of the photographers’ co-operative, Magnum, and as the author of (Images à la sauvette, or “images on the run” in its French version) in 1952.The aura of does not just derive from the 126 photographs that compose it, among which such famous images as “Sunday on the Banks of the Marne” (1938), “Salermo” (1933), “Andalusia” (1933), “Valencia” (1933), “Calle Cuauhtemocztin, Mexico City” (1934), “Dessau, Germany” (1945) [a Gestapo informer is recognized], “Rice Fields in the Menangkabau Country, Sumatra” (1950), “A Eunuch of the Imperial Court. Many of these have been reproduced in other books, other catalogs.The aura of this book does not simply derive from its sole physical qualities, the choice of the paper, its careful printing by Draeger, or even the cover designed by Matisse himself.A few minutes later, to my surprise, there it was, with its dust-jacket and all, in good condition, and at a very reasonable price: .Two weeks before, I had perused a copy of Images à la sauvette, its French version, in Arles in mediocre state and at a high price.For the trained eye, the “prepared mind”, the instantaneous recognition of movement, lines, masses, human actions and expressions, light become as many clues “given” to try and make some sense out of the chaos, out of the apparent and sometimes naive freedom (advocated by existentialism and the new “orders” that followed WW II) conferred to humanity, and the awe that this realization could generate.All this generated, not an impression of fleeting power that may have seduced some, but one of participation in the world. A., three years after In the light of Cartier-Bresson’s images, paradoxically, another dimension of photography emerges: the decisive moment as a contemplative moment, the one that the photographer also captures, most of the time, in a fraction of a second, but that summarizes and stands as the index of long stretches of time, time in its abstract manifestation (because it has become suspended, timeless), a time to which we, in our western civilization of real television and infotainment, rarely have access.2004 has been a rather deadly year for photographers.Van Deren Coke, Carl Mydans recently, and, within weeks, on the other side of the ocean three men, two of whom were photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) and Jean-Philippe Charbonnier (-2004), and one darkroom sorcerer, Pierre Gassman. There was an attitude that matched the character, he wanted to be the first one to look at his contact sheets.


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