Henri Cartier-Bresson

When looking down the list of street photographers I saw Henri Cartier-Bresson, but initially did not want to use him as one of my three. This was partly because I had used him in a project for my level three photography a few years back. But after taking a quick look at the others, I was drawn back to this man who is, after all, the grandfather of street photography. He was also a founding member of the esteemed Magnum Professional. While looking at many other street photographers many of them mention this man and cite him as one of the main reasons they got into street photography.  Many saying he is the greatest photographer of the 20th century.

Bresson was born in 1908 and was a painter and drawer. It was not until the early 1930s that Bresson started to take photography seriously. He transformed the art of photography with his amazing sense of timing, his intuition in foreseeing the right moment, his sensitivity towards his subject and his amazing sense of geometry within the frame. He believed that this could not be taught, it had to be in you, but it could be honed if you possessed the basics.

What drew Bresson to photography was its immediacy, he said it was an instant drawing. He was never interested in printing his own work and never hung any of his images at home, his only interest was capturing the moment.

In 1947 he published his most famous book the Decisive moment, this book has until recently (2009) been out of print and a French first addition would have cost you around £2,750 (O’Hagan, 2014). Also in 1947 he co-founded the Magnum Photo Agency along with David Seymore and Robert Capa, now known the world over for its exacting work in photography. Magnum only accept photographers of the highest calibre.

“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (alexramsay, 2014)

In researching this man’s work I watched a few documentary videos about him. One showed him in action on the street. He had an almost ballet-type dance as he took people’s pictures. I imagine the reaction I might get in my home town of Wolverhampton if I attempted the same.

He liked a small camera and predominantly shot with a 50mm prime on an M3 Leica body. He would pretty much hide the camera in his right hand until he saw a moment coming as he felt if people saw the camera they would automatically act in a different manner than normal.

In the 1970s Bresson stopped taking pictures and returned to his paintings and drawings. Bresson was a man who called himself an Anarchist and was only interested in the here and now. A humble man who never considered himself a photographer and was never interested in the past or the future, I guess he was always looking for that decisive moment!

Henri Cartier-Bresson died at his home in Provence on 3rd August 2004 just a few weeks short of his 96th birthday (Magnum photos photographer profile, 2014).





alexramsay (2014) 29 quotes by photographer Henri Cartier Bresson – John Paul Caponigro – digital photography workshops, DVDs, eBooks. Available at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/12018/29-quotes-by-photographer-henri-cartier-bresson/
Grow, K. (2015) What happens when Algorithms design a concert hall? The stunning Elbphilharmonie. Available at: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment/
Magnum photos photographer profile (2014) Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN
O’Hagan, S. (2014) Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his decisive moment has passed. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography