“I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life—to preserve life in the act of living.”
—Cartier-Bresson in 1952, recalling his work of the early 1930s
Thanks to the modern technology of a handheld camera, the photographer of the early 20th century had a freedom unknown up until then, to capture the essence of street life, of daily activity; and the ability to steal a moment spontaneously and hold it forever.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908–2004) was a leading figure in the two most important developments to emerge in the world of photography at that time. Because of the rise of mass-circulation magazines such as Life, Look and many others, a market was created for pictures for the medium which had become sort of the Internet of that day. Everybody read magazines and loved to look at the photos from life around the world. Bresson was one of the suppliers of this hunger for the sights both near and far.
He began his career at the age of 22 in the early 1930s, and helped to define photographic modernism. Later, during World War II, he became one of the chroniclers of the sights of that era. After the war, he was equally well-known for his pictures of Ghandi's funeral and the Chinese revolution. Indeed, Cartier-Bresson was active in the most important times of the century. His photographs brought a stark, simple clarity that required no captioning for understanding.
Before the advent of television, society enjoyed the picture magazines as a delightful and enlightening way to see the culture around them. Photography was now coming into the age of artistic expression, not merely as a recorder of events, but as a conduit for the photographer to "paint" what he saw.
This retrospective exhibition—the first since the photographer’s death in 2004—draws extensively on the collection and generous cooperation of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris.
All works in this exhibition are by Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908–2004) and are gelatin silver prints. All of the publications on view in vitrines are courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
July 25–October 3, 2010