Henri Cartier-Bresson: “I’m an Anarchist”

Thu, Sep 24, 2009

Creative Interviews, Video

Henri Cartier-Bresson: “I’m an Anarchist”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

French – Born in Chanteloup 1908, died, 2004.

Henri found surrealism in his painting early in life. The miraculous jump came at age 28, when he stumbled upon a 35mm Leica camera after being inspired by Marin Munkasci’s photograph of African American boys playing at the beach. [For those who are unfamiliar, the Leica was the camera of choice in photojournalism for nearly half a century designed for durability, light weight, speed and flexibility.] From that point on we’d know Cartier-Bresson as one of the worlds greatest photographers.

Henri was held by the Nazis as prisoner of war in 1940. Three years later he became an escapee after three tries, followed by 2 years of underground activity helping prisoners and other escapees.

At the end of the war, in addition to photographing a newly liberated Paris and traveling extensively,  Henri produced a documentary, “The Return”.  Henri’s most notable collaboration however, materialize in ’47 when he, Robert Capa, George Rodger, David Seymour and William Vandivert founded Magnum Photos which remains one of the premier photo agencies.

His first book of 126 photos titled,  “Images à la Sauvette” was published in 1952.  Translated to “The Decisive Moment”, the book’s title would help distill Cartier-Bresson’s work into words for generations of young photographers.

Cartier-Bresson returned to his original creative outlet around 1968, removing himself from the mainstream of Photography to devote more time to drawing and painting.  As he’d explained, the camera is another tool for intuition and spontaneity.

Cartier-Bresson’s work defines photography.  It’s not made or manipulated; it’s taken – formed out of a nearly involuntary snap of emotional judgment when composition and humanity meet in the frame.  There is a purity of communication in those frames; more than a moment captured, it’s a intuited moment felt by both subject and photographer.

Henri’s original moment in photography happened as he viewed this photo by Munkacsi.

“The only thing which completely was an amazement to me and brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi. When I saw the photograph of Munkacsi of the black kids running in a wave I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street.”

His frustration with surrealist painting – he destroyed most of his early works – was relieved through photography.  Cartier-Bresson is quoted by the Washington Post in 1957:

“Photography is not like painting. It is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

That moment of decisiveness, according to Cartier-Bresson, can’t be taught. Its sensitivity, you have it or you don’t.

To my eye, the work of Cartier-Bresson is the essence of simplicity, geometry, tone, and emotion; composition, design, and intuition.   Never too detailed, it raises as many questions as answered.  It’s nostalgic the moment after capture.

“The simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression… . In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotif.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work can be found at Magnum Photos.

Part II of this video HERE.

Additional Links:
Cartier-Bresson Foundation

NPR Story on Henri Cartier-Bresson

Quotes were obtained from Wikipedia

artist, Craft, Craftsmen, Creativity, Design, emotional, expectations, fine art, Photographer, Photography

2 Responses to “Henri Cartier-Bresson: “I’m an Anarchist””

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