Cartier-Bresson, Henri

French (1908-2004)

Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of modern photojournalism, coined the term, “the decisive moment,” to convey his belief that a good photographer could capture an entire story in one single image, snapped at the right second. As such, his techniques were very specific. He was one of the first adopters of the 35mm format, for which he was sometimes derided as being a “snapshooter.” He also avoided darkroom manipulation of his images, preferring the challenge of arranging his shots in the viewfinder and letting them stand “as is.” Additionally, to ensure he captured subjects as unaffected by his presence as possible, he shot without a flash and painted all the shiny parts of his small camera over with black paint to hide himself in a crowd.  

In 1947, along with Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson founded Magnum Photos, a co-operative agency owned by its members, which sent photographers all over the globe in search of stories. Cartier-Bresson covered India and China, capturing some of his most famous images at Gahndi’s funeral and the beginnings of the Maoist Republic. He was also one of the first photographers to shot freely in the Soviet Union. The perceptiveness and sensitivity of Cartier-Bresson’s shots may stem from the breadth of life experience he brought to the lens; by the time he was shooting for Magnum, he’d already studied music and painting (especially the Renaissance), rubbed shoulders with artists in the surrealist movement, acted in several films, served in the army and survived as a Nazi war prisoner during WWII. It’s perhaps this same appetite for experience that led him to withdraw from Magnum in 1968 and return to painting, bringing to an end one of the most exciting careers in photography.