His images are celebrated for their ability to capture fleeting moments of human life with impeccable timing and composition. Before Cartier-Bresson, time flowed; after him, time became a staggering series of bracketed moments, that could be caught – if you were looking hard enough.
Cartier-Bresson pioneered the concept of the “decisive moment,” he defined this philosophy: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression.”
Cartier-Bresson famously said, “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”, and this incessant attitude echoed in all aspects of his life. Cartier-Bresson was drafted into the French army in 1940. He was taken prisoner by the Germans but escaped on his third attempt and joined the French Resistance. In 1946, he assisted in the preparation of a “posthumous” show of his work organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the mistaken belief that he had been killed in the war. The following year he founded the Magnum photo agency with Robert Capa (1913–1954), David “Chim” Seymour (1911–1956), and others, and spent the next twenty years on assignment, documenting the great upheavals in India and China, and also travelling to the Soviet Union, Cuba, Canada, Japan, and Mexico.
While predominately focused on capturing ‘the moment’, his photographs often showcased the human condition, depicting both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of people’s lives. Cartier-Bresson’s images exuded a sense of spontaneity and authenticity, capturing the essence of a moment in time, shedding the weight of linearity.
Cartier-Bresson’s photographic style was characterised by his use of a small, discreet Leica camera, which allowed him to blend into the surroundings and capture candid shots – now seen as a must for any street photographer. He was a keen observer of the world around him, with a keen eye for geometry and composition. His photographs often featured strong lines, interesting juxtapositions, and an innate sense of contrapposto. Cartier-Bresson’s approach to photography went beyond mere documentation; he aimed to capture the underlying emotions and narratives within a single frame, creating images that resonated with viewers on a deep level.
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work continues to inspire generations of photographers and remains influential in the world of photography today. His ability to freeze a moment in time and reveal the beauty in the ordinary has left an indelible mark on the art form. His photographs serve as a testament to the power of observation and the profound impact that a well-composed image can have. Cartier-Bresson’s dedication to capturing the decisive moment and his unwavering commitment to authenticity haa solidified his place as a true master of photography.