Henri Cartier-Bresson – Here and Now

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Copyright the estate of Henri Cartier-Bresson & Magnum Photos, published by Thames & Hudson 2014, first English edition

This is a thick and dense retrospective that devils deep into the details behind the well-known French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (b.  August 22, 1908, Chanteloup-en-Brie, FR , d.  August 3, 2004, Montjustin, FR). Although this monograph is really not meant to be an exposé per se by the Clement Cheroux, the editor of the book, he does provide a comprehensive and tantalizing biography of the photographer, cinematographer and painter. Cheroux reveals, at least for me, some little known facts about this elusive and private photographer. A quick snapshot of Cartier-Bresson, who is known for his Surrealist, Communist propaganda, filmmaking (director & actor), photo-reportage & co-founding Magnum Photos and who became known for the decisive moment and later in life, painter.

The book is broken into multiple chapters with the key ones for which characterize Cartier-Bresson and his photography; The Attraction of Surrealism (the underlying concepts for what became known as his decisive moment), Political Commitment, Film and War and The Choice of Photo Reportage.

Cheroux provides a clear distillation of the Surrealism principals as these relate to Cartier-Bresson’s early oeuvre, that which provided the building blocks for his latter propaganda photographs and lead into his decision for a career in photo reportage. As a student painter he had learned pictorial design and composition, which he then applied to Surrealism photography. He would first find and compose a graphic background and then wait for the right person to enter the frame. This was a surrealist idea of the combination of composition and chance, which Cartier-Bresson labeled “simultaneous coalition” and was later re-branded by a book publisher as the “decisive moment”. Cheroux explores the principals of Surrealism that Cartier-Bresson adopted; Dialectic Synthesis, Fixed-Explosive, Veiled-Erotic, Magic-Circumstantial, Daydreamers and the Salt of Distortion.

It was also during the days of Surrealism that Cartier-Bresson became more elusive about his past as well as secretive about himself, as his parents owned one of the 200 largest companies in France (a thread company which merged with Thirez to form TCB in the 1930’s). It was his family’s wealth that although allowed him the economic freedom to travel where he chose, but created a philosophical issue with the economic tenets of Surrealism.

As a result Cartier-Bresson adopted various names to publish his photographic work. The conflict created by his family’s wealth subsequently became even more acute for Cartier-Bresson with his active participation with the French Communist party in the mid to late 1930’s. After WWII the sanction of the communist party and those associated with it created further angst for Cartier-Bresson, but as a result of having kept a low personal profile he was able to deftly side-step almost all of the communist purging that occurred in the late 1940’s and well into the 1950’s. He became very public about his photographs, but learned to be very private about himself.

The massive book was first published in French by Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, copyright 2013 and subsequently this first English edition by Thames and Hudson, 2014. The book was published in conjunction with the Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, that ran February to June, 2014. The photographs images were reproduced as close to the original C-B prints, such as the warm tone print provided below. The book was edited by Clement Cheroux. Perhaps lost in the fine print, but very obvious in the print quality that this book was printed by Steidl in Gottingen, Germany. Very nice and a recommended book for the fans of HC-B and photojournalism.

Cheers!

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