Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Moment In Eternity - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Where the Streets Have No Name by U2 on Grooveshark

Are you into photography?  I had never really thought too much about it until I went to the Henri Cartier-Bresson gallery.  

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism and is arguably the greatest photographer of the twentieth century.  He pioneered the 35 mm format (Leica) and the "candid shot."  His development of "street photography" or "life reportage" forever influenced the medium and raised photojournalism to an art form.  It's interesting to note that a lot of really technically gifted artists have a diverse artistic background, one discipline influences the other and can create spectacular results. Cartier-Bresson originally trained in music then oil painting and sculpture and he called his education in those arts as learning "photography without a camera."  

This is the shot that he says inspired him to stop painting and take photography seriously:

"Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika" - Martin Munkacsi

He said:  “For me this photograph was the spark that ignited my enthusiasm. I suddenly realized that, by capturing the moment, photography was able to achieve eternity. It is the only photograph to have influenced me. This picture has such intensity, such joie de vivre, such a sense of wonder that it continues to fascinate me to this day."

And on that day, he found his destiny.  

Living a long and rich life (he died at 95-years-old), Cartier-Bresson spent more than three decades of it on assignment for Life and other journals.  As an artist who achieved renown and financial success in his own lifetime, he started purchasing and collecting works from other photojournalists and today, his foundation houses and displays some of his more famous acquisitions and works.  The focus of the exhibition we went to today was loosely the Depression-era United States along with civil wars of the twentieth-century.   

Do you recognize some of these iconic images?  

"Execution of a Vietcong officer by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police of South Vietnam" - Eddie Adams (1968).  Adams won a Pulitzer for this shot. 

What do you think of the meta-commentary on photojournalism created by this image?  As the viewer, we immediately sympathize with the "victim."  Adams later said:  The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?  This particular Vietcong officer had earlier been caught by General Nguyen next to the bodies of several American soldiers and General Nguyen's senior officer and his entire family whom the victim had murdered.  This shot ruined General Nguyen's life. Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family for the damage it did to his reputation and when General Nguyen passed from cancer Adams said of him:  The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.  Check out the New York Times article on the death of General Nguyen here.  

"Migrant Mother" - Dorothy Lange, 1936

Entrance to the Krakow ghetto - Roman Vishniac (1937)
"Children of Miners" - Marion Post-Wolcott (1936)
Repere de bandits - Jacob Riis (ca. 1808)
Gloria Swanson - Edward Steichen (1924)
Entrance to a cinema for "colored persons" - Peter Sekaer, 1936
"Brooklyn Gang" - Bruce Davidson (1933)

"An American Lady in Italy" - Ruth Orkin (1951)

"Landing of Normandy" - Robert Capa (1944)

"Apartment" - Weegee (1941)
"James Dean" - Dennis Stock (1956)
"Three Generations of Welsh Miners" - W. Eugene Smith (1950)
Looking over the photos I took of the photos with my iPhone, it's difficult to get a sense of the effect given by the images in person, but they are all stunning.  Up till now, I've been taking photos with my iPhone out of convenience and because there isn't much difference between an iPhone and an automatic digital camera.  But I have a nice Nikon at "home" (where is home any more? I don't know) that I can't wait to get to know because this art form inspires me!  I feel a need to better document my life, memories are so fragile, and as Cartier-Bresson realized...photographs capture a moment for eternity.  

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