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don't swish the water...

 
 

...Cartier-Bresson's
sense of geometry!

   

 

We think MoMA is perfect to sneak away to on a weekday afternoon for a date with the 20th Century, spread out as it is in aesthetic splendor on the walls, pinned with the impeccable eye of Henri Cartier-Bresson in this wonderfully large retrospective of his work.  It was the century of the image, and Cartier-Bresson was the unerring eye of the century.  Cartier-Bresson’s oeuvre has always been all about the moment, the 'decisive moment' as he called it: “...the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as the precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

 


L'Aquila degli Abruzzi, Italy, 1951, Gelatin silver print

 

His best work combined reportage, photojournalism, and the news with the visual sense of the artist and aesthete.  Originally trained as a painter, and perhaps with some of the influence of his early years with the Surrealists, his work is essentially all about how he frames the photograph.  Always the poet’s awareness of line and rhythm, a sure strong sense of structure so that as he is talking about something contemporary and immediate, there is also the sense of an abstract painting, impeccably composed, that shines through....the arabesque of curve of staircase, the cadence of square niches in a wall. To Cartier-Bresson, the sense of rhythm... “...reinforces the content of a photograph...the relationship between shapes and values.”

 


Madrid, 1933, Gelatin silver print

 

He seemed to be uncannily and perfectly positioned in the unpredictability of events that unfolded as he traveled the world.  What was certain was that his photographs were in black and white and that he had a way of sneaking up on his subjects, capturing them unaware. He had the eye of the hunter, remarking: One has to tiptoe lightly and steal up to one's quarry; you don't swish the water when you are fishing. 

 

Cartier-Bresson also said, “There is a lot of talk about camera angles; but the only valid angles in existence are the angles of the geometry of composition.”  His sense of visual geometry, innate, immediate, expressed the ideas in the photograph.  The curves and lines lead the eye, inviting scrutiny and guiding it, giving rigor to the structural composition, defining the photograph and taking the image beyond the historical and journalistic into the realm of art.

 


Nehru and the Mountbattens, 1948

 

His anthropological gaze traversed the globe...he captured Matisse in his studio, Giacometti like one of his sculptures himself, the liberation of Paris, America, Spain, the communists in China, Indian independence.  Images that are iconic: a laughing Nehru between the Mountbattens (Nehru was rumored to have had an affair with Lady Mountbatten), the last photograph of Gandhi before his death, the post-war denunciation of a Nazi in Germany.  Peter Schjeldahl writing in the New Yorker says, “...the occasions of historic tumult and human suffering that presented Cartier-Bresson, always and only, with chances to achieve beautiful and yet more beautiful pictures.”    And then, after the show, look forward, into the century ahead, with a renewed sense of the geometries that lie beneath the surface of our lives....

 

See: Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, MoMA

 

See some of his photos online: MoMA

 

Buy the accompanying catalogue: Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, Peter Galassi

 

Collect the out-of-print: Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment, at abebooks.com

 

 

Tags: photography  art  museums  geometry

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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