Occupation: Photographer, Filmmaker
Specialty: Candid photography
“Seville, Spain,” 1932
“Portrait of Alberto Giacometti,” 1938
“Tours de Notre Dame (Towers of Notre Dame),” 1953
Inspiring armature and professional photographers alike, Henri Cartier-Bresson led the way for candid and street photography. Patient and compassionate, his photographs reflect the same. Believing in life rather than gears is what gives his photographs a soul.
Early Life and Career
Strong willed and focused, Henri Cartier-Bresson found his love for photography early on in his life. Despite having grown up in a traditional bourgeois family where he was expected to take over the family business someday, his dedication to photography grew stronger over the years. He used a Brownie camera and later progressed to 3×4-inch view camera during family holidays where he would spend time clicking photographs.
Bresson was introduced to painting as well by his Uncle Louis, who was later killed in World War I. Enrolling at the Lhote Academy, he studied under Cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote. Lhote’s style inspired Bresson to an extent that he considered him as a teacher of “photography without a camera.” While there were clashes between the two regarding the approach, it helped Bresson focus on artistic measures such as the composition of a photograph.
The formation of the Surrealist movement in 1924 had a considerable impact on his photography. Combined with the political upheaval and cultural changes at the time, he experimented with these concepts in his painting. However, frustrated with the results, he destroyed his earlier paintings.
He received his first camera in 1929 from the American expat, Harry Crosby, who was a keen photographer as well.
It was at Côte d'Ivoire that he documented his life with a miniature camera. His hunting techniques helped him with his photography as well. However, after contracting blackwater fever, barring a few, his photographs did not survive. This also necessitated his return to France.
Inspired by the photograph of Martin Munkácsi, a Hungarian photojournalist and acquiring the Leica camera with 50 mm lens, Henri Cartier-Bresson went on to carve a name for himself. The small camera gave him the freedom of capturing raw moments in his surroundings. Fascinated and impatient, he went all over the world for his photography and had his first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York.
His photography took him across the world which gave him an opportunity to immerse himself in all types of surroundings. This put him at risk too, quite a number of times. As a prisoner of the Germans in 1940 and successfully escaping on his third attempt provided him with an idea of making “Le Retour,” which was about the release of French prisoners.
A pioneer of candid and street photography, there are several techniques Bresson applied to his photography which is still respected by contemporary photographers. Frames and geometry has quite an important role to play in his photographs. Finding geometry from his viewfinder, the lines, curves and triangles feature prominently in his photographs that present the viewer with a new perspective.
He was an early user of 35 mm film and used wide angle lens for photographing landscape. He was quick with his camera and photographed events without people even noticing. Focusing on subjects and their environments rather than over thinking about fancy techniques and upgraded cameras made Henri Cartier-Bresson a well-respected photographer.
1908 - Born in Chanteloup, France
1927 - Studies painting with Cubist painter and sculptor Andre Lhote
1931 - Takes his first photographs during a year in Ivory Coast
1933 - Exhibits work at the Julien Levy gallery in New York
1937 - Directs documentary films about the Spanish Civil War
1940 - Taken prisoner by the Nazis, escaped in 1943
1947 - Co-founds the Magnum photo agency
1952 - Publishes his first book
1981 - Receives Grand Prix National de la Photographie in Paris
2004 - Died in Montjustin, France
1993 - Photo Dessin – Dessin Photo, Arles, France
1994 - Dessins et premières photos – La Caridad, Barcelona, Spain
1996 - Henri Cartier-Bresson: Pen, Brush and Cameras – The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, US
1997 - Henri Cartier-Bresson, dessins – Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal
1998 - Howard Greenberggh Gallery, New York
2004 - Museum Ludwig, Cologne
2008 - Henri Cartier-Bresson's Scrapbook Photographs 1932-46, National Media Museum, Bradford, UK
2009 - Musée de l’Art Moderne, Paris
2010 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2011 - Museum of Design Zürich
2014 - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France
University of Fine Arts, Osaka, Japan
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France
Museum of Modern Art, New York, US
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, US
Institute for Contemporary Photography, New York, US
Kahitsukan Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyoto, Japan
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
“The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers” by Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment” by Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Henri Cartier-Bresson in India” by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Satyajit Ray