Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Decisive Moment

‘”Manufactured” or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgement, it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. For me, the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity and the master of the instant, which questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what he frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. To take photographs means to recognize both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s hearth on the same axis. As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is means of understanding, which can not be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shooting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.’ – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson attended the Ecole Fenelon and the Lycee Condorcet in Paris before studying painting under Cotent from 1927 to 1928, both in Paris. After that, he completed his studies of painting and philosophy at Cambridge University. His career as a photographer began in 1931. After participating in an ethnographic expedition to Mexico, he began working as a freelance photographer. In 1932, gallery owner Julien Levy hosted his first solo exhibition. In 1935 he learned about motion picture photography from Paul Strand. After that he worked as a camera assistant for Jacques Becker and Andre Zvoboda and also for Jean Renoir. In 1937 he made documentary films in Spain, and 1940 he become a prisoner of war of the Germans in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. After escaping in 1943, he joined the MNPGD, a French underground resistance movement. After 1945 he once again turned to freelance photography.

He authored many books illustrated with his photographs, among them The Decisive Moment, Changing China and The World of Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1970 he married the photographer Martine Franck. Cartier-Bresson is a living legend. Hardly any other photographer has been cited so often as exemplary of one of the great capabilities of photography: capturing a moment. In Cartier-Bresson’s view, it is not just a moment, as it is in 99% of the millions of pictures made everyday, for him it is “le moment decisif”, the decisive moment that expresses the essence of a situation. This photographer worked for nearly all the great international newspapers and magazines of the world. Together with Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour and George Rodger, he founded the Magnum group, and his travels took him to India, Burma, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Cuba, Mexico, Canada, Japan and the former USSR.

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