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