Cartier-Bresson: A Glimpse of the World


With just the click of a button anyone can capture the essence of the moment. Today, our high-speed cameras automatically focus on our subjects rendering almost “perfect” images every time we aim and shoot. Additionally, the ability to take multiple shots without worrying about film and its manipulation into prints has utterly transformed the medium of photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908- 2004) is considered to be one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century. As part of the traveling exhibir from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Mapfre Foundation sought to exhaustively examine the lengthy career of this artist. Therefore, they organized the exhibit into the three main influences of the artist: his association with surrealism (1926-35); the creation of his political voice, especially for the communist party (1936-1946); and his involvement in photo reporting for Magnum Photos (1947-1970).

For me, one of the most astounding aspects of his career was his ability to travel globally at a period in time in which it was not particularly comfortable or easy. In the exhibition of over 500 works (!) many displayed scenes from Spain, which I would be interested to know if this correlated to the fact that this portion was shown in Madrid. I especially enjoyed a propaganda movie that he helped film to aid the efforts of the Republicans during the Civil War. The film focused on the treatment of injured soldiers, providing a very distinctive view of cultural healing process necessary due to war.

Later in his career, he shifted his focus from behind a camera to his original passion, drawing claiming that “Photography is instant action, whereas drawing is meditation.” I think this statement resonates aptly with his ability to capture the mood and moment of a city, place and time by stilling the movement of his subjects into an instant. Throughout the exhibit they claimed that he would often find a street or angle that he liked and then would wait until someone passed by and created symmetries with the inherent qualities of that angle. His later drawings filled with loose motion reflect a similar tendency, to still, or better yet unleash, the natural tendencies of each human being.

Although I left with what I believe to be a very clear view of the motives and goals of Cartier-Bresson, it was a lot of information to digest in one sitting. It is hard to recall all 500 photographs presented; however, there are a few that distinctively come to mind while writing this piece proving the power of his lens. Maybe before the exhibit moves to its next destination, I will have a chance to examine them once more. If not, at least my next photos will be inspired by his creative genius!

Here is the official webpage, to glimpse part of the exhibit for yourself:


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