Henri Cartier-Bresson began traveling in 1930, at the age of twenty-two. For nearly half a century he was on the road most of the time, and the geographical range of his work is notoriously wide. Its historical range is just as broad—from ancient patterns of preindustrial life to our contemporary era of ceaseless technological change. In the realm of photography Cartier-Bresson's work presents a uniquely rich, far-reaching, and challenging account of the modern century.
The two most important developments in photography in the first half of the twentieth century were the emergence of lasting artistic traditions and the rise of mass-circulation picture magazines. Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) was a leading figure in both domains. In the early 1930s he helped to define photographic modernism, using a handheld camera to snatch beguiling images from fleeting moments of everyday life. After World War II he turned to photojournalism, and the magic and mystery of his early work gave way to an equally uncanny clarity and completeness.
Before the dominance of television, most people saw the world through the eyes of picture
magazines. Early in Cartier-Bresson's postwar career, his photographs of Gandhi's funeral
and the Communist revolution in China were journalistic scoops. But the vast majority of his
photographs describe things that happen every day, for his essential subject was society and culture—civilization.
This retrospective exhibition—the first since the photographer's death—draws extensively on the collection and generous cooperation of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris.