"Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) - reffered to as HCB thereafter - was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography. He helped develop the street photography or life reportage style that was coined The Decisive Moment that has influenced generations of photographers who followed." - Wikipedia
In late 1931 HCB deepened his relationship with the Surrealists. He became inspired by a 1930 photograph by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi showing three naked young African boys, caught in near-silhouette, running into the surf of Lake Tanganyika. Titled Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika, this captured the freedom, grace and spontaneity of their movement and their joy at being alive. Cartier-Bresson said:
That photograph inspired him to stop painting and to take up photography seriously. He explained, "I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant". He acquired the Leica camera with 50 mm lens in Marseilles that would accompany him for many years. He described the Leica as an extension of his eye.
The Decisive Moment
In 1952, HCB published his book The Decisive Moment. It included a portfolio of 126 of his photos from the East and the West. HCB took his keynote text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz: "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment". HCB applied this to his photographic style. He said: "To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression".
"Photography is not like painting," Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever."
Cartier-Bresson held his first exhibition in France at the Pavillon de Marsan in the Louvre in 1955.
HCB spent more than three decades on assignment for Life and other journals. He traveled without bounds, documenting some of the great upheavals of the 20th century — the Spanish civil war, the liberation of Paris in 1944, the 1968 student rebellion in Paris, the fall of the Kuomintang in China to the communists, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Berlin Wall, and the deserts of Egypt. And along the way he paused to document portraits of Camus, Picasso, Colette, Matisse, Pound and Giacometti. But many of his most renowned photographs, such as Behind the Gare St. Lazare, are of ordinary daily life, seemingly unimportant moments captured and then gone.
Cartier-Bresson was a photographer who hated to be photographed and treasured his privacy above all. Photographs of Cartier-Bresson do exist, but they are scant. When he accepted an honorary degree from Oxford University in 1975, he held a paper in front of his face to avoid being photographed. In an interview in 2000, Cartier-Bresson noted that it wasn't necessarily that he hated to be photographed, but it was that he was embarrassed by the notion of being photographed for being famous.
HCB almost exclusively used Leica 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with normal 50 mm lenses or occasionally a wide-angle for landscapes. He often wrapped black tape around the camera's chrome body to make it less conspicuous. With fast black and white films and sharp lenses, he was able to photograph almost by stealth to capture the events.
He never photographed with flash, a practice he saw as "impolite...like coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand." He worked exclusively in black and white, other than a few unsuccessful attempts in color.
"The camera for us is a tool, not a pretty mechanical toy. In the precise functioning of the mechanical object perhaps there is an unconscious compensation for the anxieties and uncertainties of daily endeavor. In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing." — Henri Cartier-Bresson