May 3, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
At Home Everywhere: The Travels of Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Shanghai. 1948. Gelatin silver print, printed 1971. The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel. © 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

I tracked Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) from England to India to Indonesia and back. He was in England for the coronation of King George VI; he was in India when Gandhi was assassinated; he was in Indonesia as the nation gained independence from the Dutch. He was seemingly everywhere.

I know because it was my job to compile all of Cartier-Bresson’s photo captions, notes, datebooks, and correspondence from his travels, which covered the better part of the 50 years he was actively working as a photographer. I then had to transform this into a comprehensive yet comprehensible chronology that would appear in the catalogue of the exhibition Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century.

With no precedent from which to work, the task initially felt daunting. I dove into the massive files of material with the indispensable help of Aude Raimbault, from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, and Pauline Vermare, who came from the Fondation to MoMA to assist on the project. I began to uncover information that made me feel as if I were a detective on Cartier-Bresson’s trail, and I quickly fell into a rhythm, accompanying him from Europe to America to the Far East.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. New York. 1946. Gelatin silver print. Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris. © 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

I read letters and telegrams to and from Cartier-Bresson, who was in New York when families were reunited after years of separation during World War II and in Shanghai when Communist forces marched into the city and a bank panic occurred. When I saw photographs from those exact moments (at left and above), it was thrilling—I had witnessed history through the lens of a true master.

Upon finishing my research, I had a nearly forty-page document outlining Cartier-Bresson’s adventures from 1929 to 2000. It was so detailed that it often indicated the exact days when he was in a particular place, why he was there, and what he was doing.

The result is a portrait of a photographer who was truly at home anywhere in the world. Cartier-Bresson’s energy knew no bounds. At one point in his extensive travels, between 1946 and 1950, he photographed on the road for nearly four years straight. And Cartier-Bresson generally didn’t travel by luxury jet airliner—he preferred going by boat, train, car, bus, truck, bicycle, and motorcycle.

For Cartier-Bresson, to photograph was to live. As he said, “It is through living that we discover ourselves, at the same time as we discover the world around us.”


Very, very interesting. I’like to stay in NY this time to see it at Moma. congratlations!

Not even Frank Kapa was so competent in catching such unbelievable moments. Really much more than 1000 words would be needed to describe the events that Cartier-Bresson recorded in black and white

Brevity is the soul of wit

visual clarity needs no punditry.


Absolutely captivating!

As an ex photographer, who really just used the camera to make prints as did the Weston’s, Strand and others, Bresson is amazing. He not only took pictures of things, but made his prints reflect all of life, beyond what we are looking at. Wish it was here instead of the silly New Topographics we had here at LACMA. Did have a good show of Irving Penn’s at the Getty, is it coming here?

Dan, this is great! I would like to attend your presentation at LU in October. Look forward to seeing you in Appleton!

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