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[eccr] Henri Cartier-Bresson 1908-2004

Thu Aug 05 11:03:43 GMT 2004

Title: Henri Cartier-Bresson 1908-2004
Henri Cartier-Bresson 1908-2004


By Mary Rourke and Iris Schneider

Los Angeles Times

Henri Cartier-Bresson, who raised photojournalism to an art form with the use of a small camera and a vision that photography should capture what he called ``the decisive moment,'' has died in his native France. He was 95.

Cartier-Bresson died Tuesday at his home in Luberon in Provence, according to his family, who provided no details on the cause of death. He was buried Wednesday in nearby Alpes-de-Haute.

``With him, France loses a genius photographer, a true master, and one of the most gifted artists of his generation and most respected in the world. An essential witness of his time, he photographed the 20th century with passion, immortalizing with his universal vision the movement of men and civilizations,'' French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement.

During his decades-long career as a working photographer, Cartier-Bresson repeatedly crossed the divide between art and photojournalism. From 1947, when he and colleagues Robert Capa, George Rodger, William Vandivert and David Seymour, known as ``Chim,'' founded the Magnum agency for photojournalists, he helped raise the status of the profession.

But even as he helped build photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson insisted that he was first of all an artist.

``Henri Cartier-Bresson was a giant,'' said Robert Sobieszek, chief curator of photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. ``He did for photography what Picasso did for painting. He invented a form that we now call street photography. Without him, it wouldn't exist. He changed the way we see photographs.''

>>From his earliest days as a working photographer, Cartier-Bresson traveled the world on assignment for European and American magazines, including Look, Life and Paris Match. He had a knack for being in the right part of the world just as history was unfolding. He said his intention was to ``trap'' life and preserve it in the act of being lived.

To achieve this he relied on a simple Leica as his main tool. In India, he photographed Mahatma Gandhi an hour before his assassination, and he stayed to cover the funeral. In 1954, he was among the first Western photographers to record life after the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the end of his brutal reign.

``Of all forms of _expression_,'' he noted in his book, ``The Decisive Moment'' (1952), ``photography is the only one which seizes the instant in its flight. We look for the evanescent, the irreplaceable; that is our constant concern.''

He also wrote: ``To take photographs is to hold one's breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeting reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.''

He never felt quite comfortable with his dual identity as an art photographer and photojournalist.

``I am not a journalist,'' he said in an interview of 1975. ``I simply sniff around and take the temperature of a place.'' In Spain, France, Mexico and the American South, he took photographs of flea markets, ghettos and city centers and the people who roamed them.

He eschewed gimmicky photography, worked exclusively in black and white and declared himself allergic to flash photographs. He was also not interested in printing. Once he made a photograph, he never cropped it or allowed editors to do so.

His most memorable photographs include ``Rue Mouffetard,'' the well-known shot of a grinning youngster carrying two bottles of wine down a Paris street; and ``Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,'' which shows a man frozen in midair as he leaps over a puddle. He made memorable portraits of the duke and duchess of Windsor, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, writer William Faulkner and artist Henri Matisse.

Born Aug. 22, 1908, into a family of wealth and title in the city of Chanteloup near Paris, he was the oldest of five children and the least likely to carry on the family textile business. Henri was more interested in accompanying his mother, Marthe, to concerts or poetry readings.

He went to Cambridge University, where he studied literature but dropped out after one year. An adventurer with a restless soul, he traveled to Africa's Ivory Coast, a French colony in 1930, with a plan to support himself as a big-game hunter. Several months after he arrived, he developed blackwater fever.

He bought his first Leica in Marseille, where he went to recover from his illness in 1932. From then on he wore a camera over his shoulder and referred to it as the extension of his eye.

In 1939, he entered the French army as a member of the film and photo unit but within months he was captured by Germans. He spent 35 months in prison camps, and friends and colleagues in the United States presumed him dead. On his third attempt, he escaped from prison.

Cartier-Bresson grew weary of photography in the early 1970s and returned to his first love: drawing and painting. He took few photographs after 1973 and allowed few photographers to take his picture. He married the photographer Martine Franck, once a member of Magnum, in 1970. They had one daughter, Melanie, and she had one child, daughter Natasha.

Professor Jan Servaes
School of Journalism and Communication
University of Queensland
St.Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia
Tel: +61 7 3365 6115 or 3088
Fax: +61 7 3365 1377
Email: (j.servaes /at/
CRICOS Code 0025B

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