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Happy Birthday Henri Cartier-Bresson

2013-08-22 16:39:50 GMT

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism and the master of candid photography. He helped develop the street photography style and influenced generations of photographers who followed.

If Henri Cartier-Bresson were alive today, he would be celebrating his 105th birthday! Here is a brief history and a few of his life’s accomplishments:

  • The oldest of 5 children whose parents worked in the textile industry and were able to provide him with financial support to develop his interests in photography.
  • After unsuccessfully studying music, he was introduced to oil painting by his uncle, who not long after, died in World War 1.
  • At the age of 20, Cartier-Bresson attended a private art school, this sparked his interest in in modern art combined with an admiration for the works of the Renaissance.
  • After the restlessness of the “rule-laden” approach to art, Cartier-Bresson began to experiment with photography.
  • From 1929-1931 Cartier-Bresson fell into an intense affair that left him broken hearted, which sparked the decision to seek escape and adventure in French colonial Africa. He survived by shooting game and selling it to the local villages. From hunting he learned his methods which he later used in photography. During his time there he contracted blackwater fever which nearly killed him. And even though he had a small portable camera only seven photographs survived these tropics.
  • After he returned to France, he became inspired by a 1930 photograph showing 3 naked young African boys, caught in near silhouette, running into the surf, and said “I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera”. This thought, inspired him to stop painting and take up photography seriously.
  • He acquired the Leica camera with 50mm lens that would accompany him for many years. The Leica opened up new possibilities in photography, the ability to capture the world in its actual state of movement.
  • In 1935 Cartier-Bresson traveled to the United States with an invitation to exhibit his work.
  • His first published photojournalist photos came in 1937 when he covered the coronation of King George VI.
  • When World War II broke out, he joined the French Army as a Corporal in the Film and Photo unit. In June of 1940, during the Battle of France, he was captured by German soldiers and spent 35 months in prisoner-of-war camps. It took him 3 tries to successfully escape. He then worked with other photographers to secretly cover the Occupation and then the Liberation of France.
  • Toward the end of the war, rumors had reached America that Cartier-Bresson had been killed. Instead of the posthumous show that the Museum of Modern Art had been preparing, his first book (The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson) had been published.
  • In the spring of 1947 Cartier-Bresson with other well known photographers founded Magnum Photos and was assigned work in India and China. Magnum’s mission was to “feel the pulse” of the times and some of its first projects were People Live Everywhere, Youth of the World, Women of the World and The Child Generatio. Magnum aimed to use photography in the service of humanity, and provided arresting, widely viewed images.
  • His fame achieved international recognition for his coverage of Gandhi’s funeral (1948) and the last stage of the Chinese Civil War (1949).
  • 1952 was when his second book was published and in 1955 his first exhibition in France.
  • Cartier-Bresson’s photography took him to many places, including China, Mexico, Canada, the United States, India, Japan, and the Soviet Union. He became the first Western photographer to photograph “freely” in the post-war Soviet Union.
  • Cartier-Bresson retired from photography in the early 1970s, and by 1975 no longer took pictures other than an occasional private portrait; he said he kept his camera in a safe at his house and rarely took it out. He returned to drawing and painting. After a lifetime of developing his artistic vision through photography, he said, “All I care about these days is painting—photography has never been more than a way into painting, a sort of instant drawing.


Notes from Henri Cartier-Bressons life were obtained from this wikipedia entry.


France 1932


Belgium 1932


Spain 1933


New York 1947


Romania 1975



Photos courtesy of magnumphotos.com

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