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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Henri Cartier-Bresson

Dates:  1908, 22 August - 2004, 3 August
Born:  France, Seine-et-Marne, Chanteloup
Died:  France, Provence, Montjustin
Active:  Global
Website:  www.henricartierbresson.org
 
  
One of the greatest of the street photographers with an uncanny ability to capture the meaningful moments of everyday life.

Preparing biographies


Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
A painter influenced by surrealism purchased a 35 mm Leica camera in 1931, which led him to photograph the world and develop a street photography style called the "Decisive Moment" — "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression." This watchfulness for peak moments, when the formal spatial relationships of the subjects reveal their essential meaning, defined and shaped the modernist, small-camera aesthetic of intuitively anticipating when an element of life opens for an instant and defines itself. His full-frame aesthetic, a scene completely visualized at the time of exposure, separated the mental act of seeing from the physical craft of photography. His stripped-down photographic grammar shunned fine print axioms in favor of a direct application of materials and process, which was ideal for photographers who traveled and made their living by having their work reproduced in magazines and newspapers. Co-founder with Robert Capa of the photographic cooperative Magnum (1947). 
  
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

Further research

 
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David Douglas Duncan
H C-B [i.e., Henri Cartier-Bresson] 
2000, 25 May
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Exhibitions on this website

Theme: Photojournalism
ThumbnailHenri Cartier-Bresson: Notes de voyage en Chine 
PhVTitle | Lightbox | Checklist
ThumbnailMagnum Founders, In Celebration of Sixty Years 
PhVTitle | Lightbox | Checklist
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Supplemental information

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
French, 1908-2004

Born in Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne, Cartier-Bresson studied painting and developed an early interest in Surrealism. In 1932, after spending a year in the Ivory Coast, Cartier-Bresson discovered the Leica camera, his camera of choice for the rest of his career. In 1933, he had his first exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. He traveled to Eastern Europe and Mexico on assignment and later made films with Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker and André Zvoboda, and a documentary on the hospitals of Republican Spain, Victoire de la Vie (Return to Life).
 
Taken prisoner of war in 1940, he escaped in 1943 and subsequently set up an underground organization to assist prisoners and escapees. During this period he made portraits of artists such as Matisse, Rouault, Braque, Bonnard, and Claudel for Editions Braun. In 1945, he photographed the Liberation of Paris with a group of professional journalists before filming the documentary Le Retour (The Return). Along with photojournalists Robert Capa, George Rodger, David Seymour and William Vandivert, he co-founded Magnum Photos in 1947. He then spent three years traveling in Asia. He photographed Mahatma Gandhi just prior to his assassination; was in Indonesia when it formally declared its independence; and, traveled to China in 1949, witnessing the transition from the last days of Kuomintang rule through the early months of the People's Republic of China. In 1952, he returned to Europe where he published his first book, Images à la Sauvette (translated into English as The Decisive Moment). In 1954, he was the first foreign photographer admitted into the USSR. By 1968, he had begun to curtail his photographic activities, preferring to concentrate on drawing and painting.
 
Cartier-Bresson is best known for his concept of the “decisive moment” in photography. As he explained, "for me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to ‘give a meaning’ to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.” Cartier-Bresson died in Cereste, in the southeast of France, August 3rd 2004, a few weeks short of his 96th birthday. Many today consider him one of the founding fathers of photojournalism.
 
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s legacy lives on at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris, and Magnum Photos as well as numerous, prominent museums around the world.
 
Source: Magnum Photos
 
[Contributed by the Etherton Gallery] 
  
 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

Terms and Conditions

 
Tête à Tête: Portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson 
http://www.npg.si.edu ... 
  
Magnum Photos 
http://www.magnumphotos.com ... 
Probably the world‘s most famous photo agency for photojournalists. Use this site to access the portfolios, biographies of the many notable Magnum photographers. Where there are books by the photographers the website frequently includes the photographs used. 
  
The HCB Foundation 
http://www.henricartierbresson.org 
A foundation created by Martine Franck and Mélanie Cartier-Bresson to protect and preserve the legacy of Henri Cartier-Bresson. 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.186 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.100 
  
• Coke, Van Deren with Diana C. Du Pont 1986 Photography: A Facet of Modernism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, The San Francisco Museum of Art) p.169 
  
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.77 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.211 [Includes a well written short biography on Henri Cartier-Bresson with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Henri Cartier-Bresson.] 
  
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.454 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.109-110 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.244 
  
• Koetzle, Hans-Michael 2002 Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures - Volume 2 (Koln: Taschen) [This book discusses one photograph "Germany (1945)" by Henri Cartier-Bresson in considerable detail. An excellent source for a detailed analysis.] 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.188, 199 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.136-139] 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.211, Plate 47 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson this is a useful starting point.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.112 [Analyzes a single photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Henri Cartier-Bresson was represented in 60 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
 

Quotations

The wit and wisdom.

 
"A photographer is part pick-pocket and part tightrope dancer."
"Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes."
"Actually, I‘m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I‘m not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren‘t cooks."
"Chim picked up his camera the way a doctor takes his stethoscope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart. His own was vulnerable."
"During the work, you have to be sure that you haven‘t left any holes, that you‘ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late."
"He made me suddenly realize that photographs could reach eternity through the moment."
"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv."
"In photojournalistic reporting, inevitably, you‘re an outsider."
"Memory is very important, the memory of each photo taken, flowing at the same speed as the event. During the work, you have to be sure that you haven‘t left any holes, that you‘ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late."
"Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again."
"Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important."
"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept."
"The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give—and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box."
"The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box."
"The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt."
"The photograph itself doesn‘t interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality."
"The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera."
"Think about the photo before and after, never during. The secret is to take your time. You mustn‘ t go too fast. The subject must forget about you. Then, however, you must be very quick."
"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event."
"To photograph is to hold one‘s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It‘s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy."
"To take photographs means to recognize — simultaneously and within a fraction of a second - 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 heart on the same axis."
"We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory."
"What is photojournalism? Occasionally, a very unique photo, in which form is precise and rich enough and content has enough resonance, is sufficient in itself — but that‘s rarely the case. The elements of a subject that speak to us are often scattered and can‘t be captured in one photo; we don‘t have the right to force them together, and to stage them would be cheating… which brings us to the need for photojournalism."
 
  
 
  
 
  
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