Many of Cartier-Bresson’s pictures could have been made centuries ago, if he and photography had existed then. They lovingly describe age-old patterns of life, untouched by modern industry and commerce. This and the following two sections explore that theme in Asia, throughout Europe and the West, and in the photographer’s native France.
Except as a prisoner of war, Cartier-Bresson never endured the hard physical labor that was unavoidable in the ancient societies he so much admired, and after a youthful adventure in Africa he never again photographed in his own country’s colonies. But his keen attention to particulars redeems the strain of romantic nostalgia in his work, and his vision of premodern societies is but one anchor of a historical panorama that reaches well into our era of contraptions and consumerism.