Year 11 Photography and Digital Media – Assessment Task One
Describe the artistic practice of Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004) was a French photographer and photojournalist, working throughout his homeland of France and around the world. When looking at Cartier-Bresson's artistic practice – the physical actions, techniques and procedures used to create the work combined with the conceptual ideas, influences, meanings and beliefs – we can see an emphasis on the story behind the image rather than its formation. There is a subtle influence of composition on his works though, due to his interest in painting before he became a photographer.1 We can observe his ability to capture the decisive moment, producing a 'snapshot' of what the eye saw in a fleeting instant, with a “cosmopolitan understanding” of the scene.2 Using his 35mm Leica camera3 he produced images which, usually featuring only a few characters, encapsulated the personalities, emotions and circumstances of a scene. By focussing on the crowd or characters rather than the affair, CartierBresson evoked mood and feeling in his images. With this theme of emotion running throughout all his work, we can observe that he grasped the inner relationships of human beings, a motif which distinguished his work from that of others.4 In the time of the great magazines before the dominance of television, photojournalism was featured on elaborate spreads and reached a wide audience. Cartier-Bresson co-founded 'Magnum', a photography agency which allowed photojournalists to publish their work in major magazines whilst keeping rights to their work.5 As a photojournalist Cartier-Bresson recorded life and events in times and places like China before and during its industrial revolution, India and Indonesia throughout their independence and the United States throughout its post-war economic prosperity. He utilised the 'photo essay' to tell the story behind his images, acclaimed for his images of
1 Unknown author, 2000, Henri Cartier-Bresson [online], Photo Seminars. Available from: http://www.photoseminars.com/Fame/bresson.htm> [Accessed 26/3/2011]. 2 Bunnell, P. C. 2006 Inside the Photograph: Writings on Twentieth Century Photography, Aperture Foundation, New York, p 230. 3 Unknown author, 2000, op. cit. Henri Cartier-Bresson. 4 Galassi, P. 2010, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century “Introduction” [online, audio], Museum of Modern Art. Available from: http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/199> [Accessed 26/3/2011]. 5 Unknown author, 2011, History of Magnum [online], Magnum Photos. Available from: http://agency.magnumphotos.com/about/history> [accessed 27/3/2011].
Ghandi's funeral, India's independence and China's industrial revolution.6 He created images which documented and defined the West's understanding and interpretation of these events. Shanghai [Plate 1] is an example of Cartier-Bresson's photojournalism taken just before the impending Communist Revolution. The Great Leap Forward, China [Plate 2] is a photo essay by Cartier-Bresson following a four month trip to China, in which he generates and details, through seemingly mundane photographs, the story of China's industrialisation. Cartier-Bresson visited the Soviet Union twice, and the second in the early 1970s resulted in a bleak, glum body of work, emulated in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) [Plate 3].
Shanghai [Plate 1] is a superb example of Cartier-Bresson's best photojournalistic work. With the imminent rule of Communism, Chinese people rushed to the bank to exchange their paper money, which would soon be worthless, for gold. It is an interesting situation that is being conveyed, as other Asian nations at the time (India, Indonesia and Burma) were gaining independence, yet the Chinese Nationalists were about to be defeated by the Communists. 7 As with nearly all of his photos, Cartier-Bresson captured this image with a 35mm Leica. The standing figures create a distinctive...
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