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Henri Cartier Bresson: The Eye of the 20th Century

Here we go again for one more tour through the history of photography. This time we’re going to learn (if you still haven’t) a little bit more about the life of the man considered by many the greatest photographer of all times. He introduced to the world a concept of photography that changed the perception and the appreciation people have about this occupation.

Life and career

Henri Cartier-Bresson, was born in Chateloup en Brie, France on August 22, 1908. By the time Cartier became interested in photography, he had already been well educated in Paris and had studied painting as student of André Lhote. In the late 1920s, as soon as he got released from the service in army, he left to Africa for hunting. While there he became acquainted with the work of Martin Munkácsi in the French magazine Arts et Métiers Graphiques which led him to convince himself about becoming a photographer. In 1932, he buys his first camera, a Leica 35mm. One year later he has his first exhibition in New York City. During the second half of the 1930s he engages in several film productions, including a documentary about the civil war in Spain. In 1940 he’s taken as a prisoner by the nazi and only in 1943, after two failed attempts, he finally manages to escape. In the following year he produces a series of portraits of influential people of that time, among whom was Pablo Picasso. As the war ended, he becomes director in the documentary film named Le Retour (The Returning) showing the repatriation of the people who had been imprisoned. While in the USA for projects he meets up with Robert Capa and other important photographers in New York City, where they agree on the foundation of the cooperative agency Magnum. In the years to come, up to the 1970s, he spends his life traveling to several countries, in which are included China, USSR and Cuba. He photographs the triumph of the Chinese Revolution, the uprising of Castro in Cuba and registers Ghandi in public meeting shortly before his death. Meanwhile, still in 1952 he has his book Images à la Sauvete, mostly known as The Decisive Moment, published by Tériade. During this time he also directs documentaries, participates in exhibitions and releases several books containing his work.

In 1974, he quits his career as photographer to turn his attention to painting and in that same year leaves the agency Magnum.

Many years later, together with the wife, Martine Franck, and his daughter Mélanie, they create the Henri Cartier-Bresson foundation, that has as principle preserve his work and legacy and serve as place for debates on photography. He dies on August 3, 2004.


It doesn’t matter which kind photography you’re engaged with, anyone is induced to recognize the life story of this guy. He had the opportunity to see so many crucial moments of our modern history, he saw the faces of people whose names will not die so soon. And most important of all, Cartier himself as person and professional gained the respect of the world. He made a statement that receives from many photographers and even artists from different fields true acknowledgment “Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event “. He sees the world with such a complexity at the same time he masters the way to demonstrate this to people through his work. It’s fascinating to imagine the impact of such a brilliant mind in face of the thoughts society used to have in that time concerning photography.

The importance of understanding the values that such artist preached affects the way you see the new generation of artists emerging around us as well as our own relation to a certain kind of artistic work you might have. It’s of great contribution to use examples of life stories as the one we see here and look at our surroundings and remind ourselves to support this uprising. Support what is authentic, what is made with seriousness, what adds up to the diversity of opinions. Art helps the world be more united since it leads to the belief that everyone has got a talent, nothing made with passion is dispensable. Consequently these personal devotion used to represent different subjects and perspectives of our world create more consciousness in those who find worth spending their time to appreciate an art work. Art is communication made through higher levels of comprehension. Supporting it means to be ahead of this time we’re living.

To end up our story for today, I wanna leave one more quote of Cartier:

“Photography is a reaction, drawing is a meditation “


Some of his works:

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