Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in
Chanteloup-en-Brie on 22 August 1908. Although best known for his
photography, he was also an accomplished film director and painter. He grew
up in Normandy and Paris as the son of a well-to-do family in the textile
industry. After studying art in Paris between 1922 and 1928, he turned to
photography, shooting many images during his extensive travels.
His work soon found its way into magazines and exhibitions.
Cartier-Bresson was nicknamed “the eye of the 20th century” and his essay,
The Decisive Moment, published in 1952, became the philosophy of virtually
every photojournalist of that time. He captured countless decisive moments
during his time as a war reporter. His maxim for taking photographs was “You
approach the subject unobtrusively, even if it’s a still life. You must walk
like a cat and have a sharp eye. No flash – that goes without saying – out
of respect for the light, even if it’s dark. The craft is very dependent on
the relationship that you can create with a person. One wrong word can ruin
everything, create tension and clamming up.”
He set great store on the most perfect composition possible. The enlargement
should show the entire shot with no cropping. Most of the time he used an
unobtrusive 35mm Leica M camera with a standard 50mm lens and used black and
white film, which he considered had a more artistic quality. Most of the
development and printing was carried out by the Magnum Agency's laboratory.
In 1940, Henri Cartier-Bresson was captured by the Germans and imprisoned
for almost three years. After two failed escape attempts, he eventually
managed to reach Paris. Here he joined a group of French Resistance
photographers who were recording the times of the occupation of France and
the German retreat. It was falsely assumed that he had been killed in the
war and in 1947, the New York Museum of Modern Art posthumously dedicated an
exhibition to his life’s work. It was at this time that he co-founded the
still world-famous Magnum Photo Agency with Robert Capa, Davis Seymour and
George Rodger. His extensive travels took him to places including Europe,
Mexico, India, Pakistan, Cuba, China, Indonesia and the USA. In 1954 he was
one of the first foreign photographers to visit the Soviet Union.
Cartier-Bresson gave up his photographic career in 1972 to concentrate on
drawing and painting. In 2003, he and his wife Martine Frank founded the
Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation. His work is archived in a building in
Paris. Henri Cartier-Bresson died on 3 August 2004 – but his work lives on.