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Best of the Best: Henri Cartier-Bresson

"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject." – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004)

35mm photography, candid and street photography, modern photojournalism: these are the most appropriate branches of film photography that suit Henri Cartier-Bresson’s career and fascination. He was a French painter-turned-photographer and a great fan of surrealism. He was deeply inspired by Martin Munkácsi’s photograph entitled Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika and was instantly amazed at how photography could fix eternity in a moment. He acquired a Leica rangefinder camera, fell in love with it, and treated it as his eyes’ extension.

Since then, he pursued a life-long passion for photography. He prowled the streets all day as he ‘trapped’ life with his camera. Mainly utilizing black and white films and scarcely using flash and telephoto lens, he composed his photographs in the viewfinder and not in the darkroom. He was a not a fan of self-developing and printing. Even though his photographs are well-known, he disliked publicity and refused being photographed.

His career as a photojournalist was interrupted when he served in the French Army. He was held as a war prisoner and after two failed attempts, he escaped and worked underground until the war was over. Along with Robert Capa, George Rodger, David Seymour and William Vandivert, he founded Magnum Photos in 1947. He was also known for covering Gandhi’s funeral in 1948. In 1953, he published his book called The Decisive Moment which showcased his 126 photographs from the East and the West. He took wonderful portraits of famous people such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Truman Capote, and Albert Camus, to name a few.

A football game, Michigan vs. Northwestern, 1960.
Naples, Italy, 1960.
Romania, 1975.
Nehru Announces Gandhi’s Death, Birla House, Delhi, 1948.
New York, 1960.
Near Strasbourg, France, 1944.
Communist students demonstrate against the black market. Behind them is the Soon Bank, owned by Chiang Kai-shek’s father-in-law, 1949.
Hamburg, Germany. The sign reads, “Looking for any kind of work.” 1952-1953.
Visit of General de Gaulle, Munich, 1962.
Hyères, 1932
Roman Amphitheatre, Valencia, 1933
Albert Camus, Paris, 1944.
Alicante, Spain, 1932
Truman Capote, New Orleans, 1947.
At the Le Mans Auto Race, France, 1966.
Waiting in Red Square to visit Lenin’s Tomb, 1954.
Simone de Beauvoir, Paris, 1946.
Rue Mouffetard, 1954
Jean-Paul Sartre, Paris, 1946.
Uzbekistan, 1954.
Cell in a Model Prison in the U.S.A., 1975
Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932.

His disarming masterpieces concern life’s littlest details captured with minimal effort. We may not find the perfect portrait of him but what he left us is a collection of beautiful and truthful treasures that made us see a better world.

All photographs in this article are from afterimagegallery.com, everydayishow @ livejournal, and pbase.com.

Which of these Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs strike your liking the most? What other classic photographers would you like to be written about?

basterda is a member of the Lomography team in Manila. She has been dealing with your Customer Service concerns since August of 2010 and is now also contributing to the magazine. Influential Photographs is also one of her ongoing series for the Lifestyle section.

written by basterda


  1. bccbarbosa


    Great article! Bresson was a genius!! 'Behind the Gare St-Lazare' is one of my all time favorites!

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  2. wuxiong


    Henry is one of the greatest milestont in documentary photography. I was impressed by his "decisive moment theory".... <:))

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  3. adbigmilk


    Romania 1975 is my favorite. I'm always amaze to see his pictures.

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  4. grazie


    Thanks for this article!

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  5. panchoballard


    Love the shot of Camus. A great artist captured by another great artist.

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  6. lakandula


    Nice article, Erin! Thanks for sharing this tribute to one of photography's true masters. I'm torn between Waiting in Red Square to See Lenin and Naples, Italy. All the shots were awesome but these two are my favorites. Although I must say the Near Strasbourg photo is very much intriguing.

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  7. kojigraph


    excelent post!, i would like to publish some of Richard Avedon and Robert Capa, regards
    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  8. takezzo


    he's my hero.

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  9. vicuna


    I love HCB's work! His photos were among the first ones to open my eyes to photography when I was a teenager...

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  10. arabrab


    I fall in love with every picture every time I see one. Henry Cartier Bresson is my hero, and one of the best photographers I know! my favorites right now are Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932 and Hyères, 1932, but that might change by tomorrow, hard to choose just one:P

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  11. elvismartinezsmith


    the boss

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  12. 360rockology


    beautiful! it made me emotional.
    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  13. lomodesbro


    Hyeres 1932 Love the high angle lead in spiral and cyclist

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  14. j_robert


    Bresson! the 4th from the top is my favorite. so devastatingly beautiful. can we see some Eugene Smith photos?

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  15. woosang


    Astounding. I love the Jean- pul Satre photo such mood and I can feel the weather

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  16. basterda


    Thanks for the feedback and suggestions everyone! Awesome choices for your favorite HCB photographs! :)

    @kojigraph, There's an article featuring the best works of Robert Capa, you may read the full article here: http://www.lomograph(…)best-series

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  17. johnccc


    Great article !

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  18. stitch


    good piece erin ;)

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  19. disasterarea


    great article about a truely inspirational photographer

    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  20. disasterarea


    If you'd like to find out more about Henri Cartier-Bresson's work, I highly recommend watching this documentary about him on youtube...


    almost 4 years ago · report as spam
  21. ihave2pillows


    I didn't know the name, but I recognize that giddy boy with his bottles and that leap over the flood water :) Great art can definitely speak for themselves ~

    about 3 years ago · report as spam
  22. af-capture


    Thanks for the article...Hyères, 1932 is my favorite...check out Martin chambi

    over 2 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 日本語, Nederlands, Português, Deutsch & Spanish.