This spring, there is no way around the MoMA, here in New York: Besides the two excellent shows on Maria Abramovic and William Kentridge, there is now a large retrospective of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004).
Peter Galassi, Chief Curator of MoMA’s Department of Photography, teamed up with the Paris-based Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation. They contributed 220 of the 300 prints for this exhibition.
Mr. Cartier-Bresson was born into a French bourgeois family. Originally, he wanted to become a painter – then he turned to the camera: His Leica was his constant companion, when he became one of the leading photo-journalists of his time. The Leica enabled him to take quick pictures without long-lasting camera set-ups.
He developed a habit of only sending the exposed film back to his developers. Often, he finally saw the resulting photograph for the first time, when it was allready published in a magazine.
There are great portraits of Coco Chanel, Jean-Paul Sartre or Truman Capote in the exhibition. Usually, he went to the home of his sitters. ‘The session will take longer than the dentist, but shorter than a psychoanalyst.’ was his estimation of the necessary span of time for a portrait.
I like most, when Henri Cartier-Bresson had to cover important events and turned his camera to its effects on regular people. The 1948 photograph of a frantic crowd storming a bank for gold, just before the arrival of Mao Tse-tung’s communist army in Shanghai, is a great example for this approach.
I am sure, today, Henri Cartier-Bresson would do a series on the main street effects of the housing crisis.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: ‘The Modern Century’
At the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 11 April – 28 June 2010
At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 30 October 2010 – 30 January 2011
At the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from 19 February – 15 May 2011