Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1908-2004 Paris Exhibition
I kept walking the streets, high-strung, and eager to snap scenes of convincing reality, but mainly I wanted to capture the quintessence of the phenomenon in a single image. Photography, for me, is instant drawing, and the secret is to forget you are carrying a camera… – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson and that infamous kiss of the sailor and girl! So iconic, much like the pearls of Chanel, and perhaps even the Eiffel Tower itself, even if it was taken in Times Square. The Parisian experience has really transformed since the mid-century. Although a peek into high society with Christian Dior herself, most of the images exhibited at Henri Cartier-Bresson: Paris are showing the life of the working classes, the life of the poor.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne in 1908, and was the son of a wealthy cotton manufacturer. At the age of fifteen he studied at André Lhote’s studio in Paris and immediately sought out and mingled with the artists of Paris, such as André Breton and Max Ernst. His engagement with photography, as his key medium, began around 1931.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a street photographer who captured the vigour of life and most enduring subjects such as Paris. The exhibition on show at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, was a collection of 80 images spanning between 1929 and 1985.
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Paris Exhibition
The exhibition layout was well considered, just like Henri Cartier-Bresson would have wanted. In 1947 he established Magnum Photos along with Robert Capa, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour. This is how Henri remained in control as to how his photos were viewed, up until his death in 2004. Magnum Photos is still around today and tries to ensure that Henri’s wishes are maintained.
Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.
Although that infamous kiss is not part of this particular exhibition (no taken in Paris, and all) there were some iconic images and some less known. For me, I was drawn to the images of children, love, artists and writers, and fashion. The everyday images that Henri Cartier-Bresson captured of Paris – the people, it shows a Paris I don’t know, a Paris that I am sad once was, and a Paris I fear still is, but hiding behind the illusion of the romance capital. I have an idealised view of Paris that exudes art, culture and style. I hate to think of it in any way other than romantic. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography captures it all. High society, low society – the rich and the poor. He makes you see it how it really is (or was). He shows you the politics, he shows you the crude – an education in doggy reproduction. He shows you the brave. He shows you the destruction and the recovery.
Each image is framed in oak (or treated pine, it’s hard to tell and I’m no wood expert). They are mounted perfectly teasing a little black rim around the photograph, showing the development process. Due to the age and the way he captured his images, his photography is almost like a painting. Like in the Parisian street scene where a lady is cross the road. The blacks are black, a remarkable contrast to the speckled ghost of the Eiffel Tower in the background.
A story is told through the eyes of the person(s) captured. Sometimes sadness or despair, sometimes elation and admiration. Each picture is a book. Each book is high literature. Each photograph has purpose because it captures reality.
If you get the opportunity to every view Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work I would highly recommend the visit.