Henri Cartier-Bresson was considered to be one of the greatest photographers of his times and was a pioneer of “snap shooting”. He took this style of photography, to the level of disciplined and refined art. Bresson had an eye for details and precision for “the decisive moment” when a subject could be captured. What marked him as different from other photographers was his incessant knowledge about the theories and practices of photography that made him a renowned figure among photojournalists.
He had influenced many with his art and proof of this lies in the numerous magazines that published his work for three decades. Leading art museums of the U.S.A and Europe have exhibited his photographs which include the Halls of Louvre in France. Considering the` picture marketing sector, Cartier has left a mark since he was one of the founders and an erstwhile president of the cooperative picture agency called Magnum.
A resident of Chanteloup, France, Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908 in a prosperous middle-class family. He began experimenting with photography with a Box Brownie which he used to capture holiday snapshots. Soon after, he also tried his hand at a 3 x 4 view camera. His 2-year course in painting, at a studio in Paris shaped and nurtured his eye for precision, composition and design.
A bout of youthful excitement and thirst for nature took him to the West African Bush where he spent a year as a hunter at the age of 22. During this period he was diagnosed with backwater fever due to which he returned to France to recuperate.. He obtained a Leica at this time and began experimenting with photography with more passion and intent. He fell in love with the art form as new alleys and perspectives opened up for him to understand and capture. It fired his imagination as he enjoyed a more unpredictable, spontaneous but beautiful way of seeing the world.
This sparked the most beautiful relationship between man and camera, which paved a new turn in the history of photography. Throughout his career, Cartier remained loyal to his first love- the 35 mm Leica. The various features and characteristics of the camera such as speed, exposures and mobility perfectly matched the shy personality of this legendary photographer. He called this camera “an extension of the eye” as he became extremely comfortable with it and knew every inch of it without even seeing. .
He was a war veteran during World War II and was one of the many who were captured by the Germans in the Battle of France. Cartier managed to escape the war prison despite failing in the first two attempts. He then remained as an underground official until the end of war in 1945. All this violence and fighting had interrupted the beautiful path of photography that he had ventured into. .
He was able to resume his career as a photojournalist and even helped in forming the Magnum picture agency in 1947. Cartier traveled across the globe on various assignments that took him to Russia, China, India, U.S.A., Europe and many more countries. During the 50s and 60s, many of his photographs got published and the most famous of all was ‘The Decisive Moment’ published in 1952. Another great work that earned him accolades was the 400-print retrospective exhibition that toured all of the United States in 1960. That was a major milestone in Bresson’s career.
While many photographers believed in opening up their photographs to be interpreted by their audience or viewers and retain an abstract element in their works, Cartier wished to communicate his thoughts or feelings in one photograph. This attribute was a result of his position as a journalist that made him so precise and realistic. The news of everything around him along with history and other realistic events, about the lives of different individuals enhanced the realistic element in his photographs.
Cartier’s work was driven by a profound sense of philosophy and the understanding of humans, their suffering, happiness and their stories. According to him, a photojournalist can become a great artist only when he recognizes the importance of human dignity and the importance of love and compassion. He had captured portraits of renowned figures like William Faulkner and these portraits were able to capture the essence of humanity in a casual but brilliant manner.
As is the case with every famous personality, Cartier had his fair share of critics who had called him nothing but a mere snap-shooter. While it is true that the methods used and applied by Cartier can degenerate into mediocrity at the hands of less disciplined hands, they were still inspirational and encouraged fellow photographers to nourish their talents. The “instantaneous exposures” that he captured were elevated to a level of art by the talented eyes of Cartier.
To quote Cartier, “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject” and one needs to focus on the details to capture a mindblowing photograph. He found beauty and brilliance in the most mundane aspects of life like a reflection in a puddle, an image drawn on a wall and so on. He searched for and found beauty in things without tampering any of them. This aspect made his photographs so real and relatable.
Cartier used the amateur 35 mm camera to capture all his works and was a pioneer of light photojournalism along with eminent figures like Dr.Erich Salomon and others. Henri Cartier-Bresson left his earthly abode in 2004, leaving a legacy of some of the most profound and intense photographs. He used the most amateur camera to capture moments in the hullabaloo of everyday life. This has resulted in a treasure of images that will be cherished by artists, photographers, and photojournalists across the globe for years to come.