Henri Cartier-Bresson: 'The Modern Century' in New York

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.


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French 1908-2004); 'Juvisy, France' 1938; Gelatin silver print, printed in 1947, 9 1/8 x 13 11/16in. / 23.3 x 34.8 cm; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of the photographer; (c) 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos, courtesy Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson

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.


During his time as a photo-journalist, he was working for world-renowned magazines, such as Life or Paris Match. A number of these historic issues are also in the show of the Modern.



Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004): 'Shanghai, China', 1948; Gelatin silver print, printed 1971, 13 x 19 1/2 in. / 33 x 49.5 cm; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel; (c) 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos, courtesy Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson

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.


by U.G.



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

Installation view of Marina Abramovic’s performance The Artist Is Present at The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Photo by Scott Rudd. © 2010 Marina Abramovic. Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Richard Avedon: 'Self-portrait', Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation courtesy of SFMOMA


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