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Glimpses of Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris

Two shows of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work in Paris this summer offer different perspectives on the renowned French photographer.


He is not with us anymore, but his images live on and are recognised across the world. French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), the master of street photography and real-life reportage, and one of the co-founders of the Magnum photo agency, is being honoured this summer in two Parisian museums.

The Museum of Modern Art (MAM) recreates a pioneering restrospective of photos chosen by the photographer himself for a 1975 show in Friboug, Switzerland, while the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) will present 120 Cartier-Bresson classics.

At the Museum of Modern Art, a total of 70 photographs taken from 1929 to 1975 by the master of photojournalism are on display. The images include two picnicking couples on the banks of the Marne River, a young girl sprinting in a lane in Sifnos, Greece, a funeral for victims of a subway tragedy, Henri Matisse in his Vence residence in the French Alps, pencil in hand, and more.

The best of his work

The show at the MAM features an astonishing array of Cartier-Bresson’s work. On display are particularly large prints (70x90cm and 90x120cm) pasted on paperboard. Some even have the grooves of the original negatives framing the prints – proof that prints are not cropped.

This process allows viewers a close-up look at the photos, and the shots are presented without frames or plexiglass, and therefore without reflection.

The show spans a single room, organized around four topics, highlighting various facets of the artist’s work. In the "First Works" section, the photographs reveal the importance of composition for HCB, who was at that time deeply influenced by painting and drawn to surrealism.

"Witness of his Times" retraces the steps of the photojournalist Cartier-Bresson, always armed with his Leica, through various tours in Mexico, the United States, Japan, India and Turkey.

In the "Daily Life” section, his work reveals a humanistic aspect by focusing on people in their environment rather than events.

The last part displays portraits, which HCB called "an extremely difficult exercise”.

"They’re like interrogations imposed on someone,” he said.

No need for setting the scene

The MEP offers a selection of 120 shots from its collection of more than 300 HCB works grouped around two broad topics, Paris and Europeans.

A cyclist pedals on a staircase, George VI is crowned in London, hildren play behind a broken wall in Italy or on the Berlin Wall: these mythical images all show revel in HCB's "decisive moment".

"Photography is a blade, which in eternity, seizes the dazzling moment,” he liked to say.

The two shows complement each other.

"These double shows permit us to discover two approaches by the same photographer," says the MEP's director, Jean-Luc Monterosso.

“It’s a selection that mixes the well known and the lesser known. Everyone finds what he or she is seeking,” says MAM’s Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais.

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