hcartier.jpgShooting with a 35-millimeter Leica, often without a flash, legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spent more than half a century capturing images on black and white film.
The 700,000 moments he snatched from time and circumstance created indelible impressions on anyone who bought his books, or viewed his work in Life, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His uncanny sense of timing and talent for shooting what he called “the decisive moment” inspired generations of photographers.
“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy,” he once said.
Born in Chanteloup to a wealthy family, Cartier-Bresson originally planned to become a painter. After studying English literature and art for several years, he switched to photography in the 1930s and embarked on a series of expeditions to Austria, China, Cuba, the French Ivory Coast, Germany, India, Mexico, Romania and the Soviet Union. His first exhibition was held in Madrid in 1933; it was followed by major shows around the world.
An unimposing figure, Cartier-Bresson often blended into the background, shooting pictures without imposition. He recorded the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi in India, chronicled the German occupation of France and shot portraits of Henri Matisse and Simone de Beauvoir. His most popular photographs were “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” which showed a man leaping over a puddle and frozen in mid-air, and “Rue Mouffetard,” an image of a smiling child carrying bottles of wine down a Parisian street.
During World War II, Cartier-Bresson was drafted into the French Army where he served as a corporal in the film and photo unit. He was captured by the Germans at St. Dié and imprisoned in a camp for nearly three years. After two unsuccessful attempts, he finally managed to escape and return to France. There Cartier-Bresson became a commercial photographer and filmmaker. He worked with French director Jean Renoir on the films “The Rules of the Game” and “A Day in the Country,” then began directing his own documentaries. In 1947, he co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Robert Capa and David Seymour.
Cartier-Bresson returned to his first love — art — in the final years of his life. He spent most days at his homes in Paris and in the south of France sketching in pencil or charcoal. In 2003, he established the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, the first private foundation dedicated to photography in France.
Cartier-Bresson died on Aug. 3. Cause of death was not released. He was 95.
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