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Henri Cartier-Bresson was born August 22nd, 1908 in Chanteloup, France. He was one of the pioneers of photography and dealt with the ephemera of the medium, coining the term “the decisive moment” in his book Images à la Sauvette, published in 1952.
In 1926, Cartier-Bresson started taking his first photographs, though he originally studied painting in Paris with André Lhote. Inspired by Martin Muncáski’s work in Arts et Métiers Graphiques, as well as works by Eugène Atget and Man Ray, he firmly decided to pursue photography. Bresson traveled to Africa in 1931, but unfortunately contracted blackwater fever and swiftly returned to France. In 1933 Bresson, purchased his first 35mm Leica camera, perfectly portable and covert enough for the spur-of-the-moment style he would soon be renowned for.
In 1937, Cartier-Bresson ventured into documentary film, reporting on medical aid in the Spanish Civil War. The same year his work was printed in newspapers and magazines. When the second world war broke out Bresson was taken prisoner by the Germans. After escpaing in 1943, he participated in the French underground photographic unit, documenting the occupation and subsequent retreat of the German army. In 1945, he made a film about the prisoner of war experience for the U.S. Office of War Information.
Cartier-Bresson’s efforts as a humane photographer were recognized and an exhibition was held for him at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1947. Later that year, in conjunction with Robert Capa, he formed the cooperative photo agency: Magnum Photos. This agency lead Bresson to be more focused than ever, and his reportage photography took him to India, China, Indonesia, and Egypt. By the 1950s he published several books, which cemented Bresson’s position as a master of his craft.
“For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.
To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in a face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.
To take a photograph means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second– both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the world’s most profilic photographers, with his work shown all over the world to this day. He passed away on August 3rd, 2004.