Henri Cartier-Bresson Essay, Research Paper
Henri Cartier-Bresson has been called “equivocal, ambivalent and accidental”1 since his debut as a photojournalist. Amplified and enriched, the work of the photographer is revealed in all its grandeur. While he may appear to “be a hurried man or a traveler without luggage”2, to quote a few of his titles, he is a poet, attentive to the act of love made with each photograph, and this is where the genius is revealed. From a desired distance, we discover simultaneously the geographer, who analyses the permanence or vulnerability of cultures; the ethnographer, who captures gestures of work and rituals of religion; the anthropologist, who reflects the spectrum of emotions; and the sociologist, who reveals the development of destinies and histories.3 Cartier-Bresson’s dependence and uncompromising view of photography; to rely solely on the moment in time, is why he will always be remembered.
Born in 1908, Cartier-Bresson studied painting with Andre Lhote in Paris, then painting and literature at Cambridge University in 1928 and developed a serious interest in photography in 1931. His work was first exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, and first published in Vu magazine in 1932. He has been involved in numerous films, such as La Vie est a nous (1936), Le Regle du jeu (1939), his documentary film on the hospitals of Republican Spain in 1937 and his film on the liberation of the concentration camps with Richard Banks called Le Retour (1945). His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1946, and in 1947 he became co-founder of The Magnum photographic agency. He has published over a dozen books and has had his photographs printed in hundreds of magazines.
Cartier-Bresson traveled the world so that he may document and present to others the human condition. His photographs transcend any particular time or place. Instead, they capture the very essence of life, be it Harlem, Madrid, Shanghai or the Paris rue Mouffetard (Ill. 2)4. In rural Europe, silent in the absence of the engine, and where everything was still done by animals and human beings, he portrays, unaltered, a society’s captivating traits. At times his poetic intention towards subject matter is inadvertently socially charged, which makes his work all the more intriguing5. Each of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs presents itself not as part of a series, an archive selected among others, but as a singular work of art which, with its own formal qualities and unique meanings, exists in itself.
Throughout his career, he upheld his own philosophy of individuality and spontaneity in the photographic process. He feels that “you have to be yourself and you have to forget yourself” in order to discover the exact instant and position from which the photographer extracts a moment of meaning from ongoing existence6. Thus results in a style rooted in the own photographer’s personality and commentary. It is in 1955 that the album Les Europ?ens, conceived and laid out by T?riade, with a cover page by Juan MirF3, was published. This piece presented a dense portrait of a Europe where, ten years after the war, accumulated ruins, as well as traces of hunger and misery on people’s faces were still clearly visible. In the preface, Cartier-Bresson states that ” whether we are just passing or settled down in a particular place, in order to express a country or situation, one needs to have somehow established a close working relationship, to be supported by a human community; living !
takes time, and roots take shape slowly… ” One must wonder in the taking of Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (Ill. 5), how much time Cartier-Bresson spent relating to these rural townspeople. His position and proximity behind these men and