Lomo-Reporting on Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame at The Rubin Museum of Art

A slight contrast to what is usually on display in The Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, Henri Cartier-Bresson's work has taken place for some time in the scared home of many ancient Himalayan artworks and pieces of the surrounding areas, including India.

A very emotional and captivating photo exhibition, portraying the huge transformation of India during the mid-twentieth century, Henri Cartier-Bronson really depicts all of the social and political chaos that India endured during the 1900's.

We asked the curator some of her thoughts on the exhibition and this is what she said;

Can you tell us a little bit about the work you decided to display?

The work displayed is a tribute to Henri Cartier-Bresson's five extended trips to India, where he focused on showing social and political struggles, as well as everyday life. One of the key stories in the exhibition is of India’s great leader Mahatma Gandhi. Cartier-Bresson traveled to Delhi in January 1948 to meet Gandhi, and their exchange was one of Gandhi’s final meetings before his assassination at the hands of a Hindu nationalist. The resulting images of Gandhi’s last day of life and the events surrounding his funeral helped catapult Cartier-Bresson to international fame as a photojournalist. They are shown in this exhibition alongside images of key political events and everyday moments in mid-century India. Cartier-Bresson is best known for a style of humanist, street photography that reveals a precise but sensitive geometry framed around a key instant, which he famously termed the “decisive moment.”

What inspired you to choose Henri's work, and more specifically a photo set for the Rubin, considering most of the work that's displayed is ancient and way before the age of technology? Would you like to tell us more about the work that Henri Cartier-Bresson made?

It’s true that some of the other exhibitions on display at the Rubin feature older artworks. However, the Museum has had a photography program since it opened in 2004, interpolating work by photographers from the Himalayan region with those who have spent extensive time there and have a specific viewpoint to articular. Prior to Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame, the Rubin has held exhibitions on India’s first female photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla (active at the same time as HCB), and French photographer Marc Riboud, who traveled across Asia from 1955-58 inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work.

Many of the themes in Cartier-Bresson’s India photos reflect ongoing issues in our world, including political strife, refugee crises, and disputed borders, revealing a timelessness and a timeliness in showing them now.

There's a certain order you organized the types of photos in, any particular reason why some sections come before others in the spiral?

The exhibition includes thematic and aesthetic groupings. In terms of thematic groupings, there are clusters of works around important historical events including India’s transition to independence, Gandhi’s assassination and funeral, and the heritage of royal India after independence. These are roughly in chronological order as you make your way through the exhibition. Beyond this, and interspersed among these groups, photos of everyday events have been arranged in pairs and groups in aesthetic or thematic clusters.

Did you want to bring the caste system to the viewer's attention so they understood how the people in India were treated? And can you explain the caste system for those who haven't had the opportunity to see the exhibit?

Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed subjects and places from all walks of life during his stays in India. However, as caste is not explicitly a major theme in the exhibition I would prefer not to go into detail here.

Did you intend to bring the way women in these communities were treated by grouping those types of photos together? And can you describe the hardships they faced even more so than others in this time of social and political chaos?

While some of Cartier-Bresson’s photos show the ways in which women were and still are segregated in post-independent India (especially in a photo of Muslim women standing outside of a mosque because they could not go in), in others he shows the privilege that being a Maharani would have lent (for example, in a photo where the Maharani of Baroda is wearing jewels that belonged to Napoleon). As throughout his work, he shows a range of experiences and conditions across India. I believe that his wife Ratna Mohini was instrumental in his quick acculturation in India—it was through her that he was able to meet Gandhi and her background as a dancer would certainly have informed his interest in Kathakali dance, about which he did a major story in 1950.

What do you think Henri wanted people to take from his work?

Throughout this series of works Cartier-Bresson is able to convey emotional intensity by photographing his subjects in close proximity. His photos of everyday life are layered, symbolic, and autonomous, revealing the photographer’s extraordinary ability to express an entire worldview in a single frame.

written by katphip on 2017-12-21

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