Front / Recto

  • Title Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Negative Date 1935
  • Print Date 1935
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 9 11/16 × 7 11/16" (24.6 × 19.5 cm)
    Sheet 9 15/16 × 8" (25.2 × 20.3 cm)
  • Place Taken Paris
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1707.2001
  • Description

    For centuries artists were portrayed with brush or chisel, and scientists with their instruments. When photography was invented in the middle of the nineteenth century the new medium inherited aspects of these traditions. Early photographers were shown beside or behind their large stand cameras in a parallel stance, suggesting that operator and camera were partners working in tandem. The invention of small handheld cameras, in the 1920s, changed that equation. The little cameras seemed as fast and mobile as the eye, able not just to apprehend but to simultaneously record what was seen, thus seeming miraculously to supplant human vision. Pictures of photographers with cameras in place of eyes consequently became a major theme in the interwar years, for example Dziga Vertov’s quick, hypermobile film Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Umbo’s Photomontage The Raging Reporter (1926).

    In George Hoyningen-Huene’s image, the photographer’s forte is posited not as rapidity or mobility but as mortal accuracy: this man is like a sniper, a dead eye with a watchmaker’s concentrated precision. Its subject, Henri Cartier-Bresson, was the most famous of the first small-camera practitioners. His name became synonymous with the art of the Leica, the 35mm German camera he holds in this portrait, which was taken in 1935, around the time of the second exhibition of his work at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, and his exhibition at La Pléiade, Paris.

    Although the photograph glorifies the small camera master, its construction and technique ironically negate small camera aesthetics altogether. It was taken in a Condé Nast studio in Paris or New York under a big battery of artificial lights with many assistants to direct them, style the clothing, and arrange the setting for the aristocratic photographer, known as the haughty high priest of stylized society portraits and fashion photographs for Vogue magazine. Like most studio photographers, Hoyningen-Huene used a large, 8 by 10 inch (20.3 by 25.4 centimeter) camera that took negatives of the same size, thus enabling gorgeous, seamless reproduction on the printed page. A Vogue lab assistant contact printed the image from a Kodak Portrait Panchromatic negative on luxurious double­-heavy-weight paper with a subtle orange-peel texture. To make it even more perfect, the Vogue studio retoucher spotted the surface flaws in aqueous medium, which now appears dark gray. Originally the image was darker and cooler, so the Retouching matched it. The thick paper required extra washing to remove detrimental chemical residues, but this was evidently not done, and as a result the print has yellowed.

    —Maria Morris Hambourg, Hanako Murata

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type No mount
  • Marks and Inscriptions Signed in pencil on sheet verso, center: Hoyningen-Huene.
  • Provenance The artist; to the artist’s first wife, Ratna Mohini (1904–1988), Paris [1]; to Mohini's archive, Paris, 1988 [2]; purchased by Alain Paviot, Paris, December 1989 [3]; purchased by Charles Isaacs, Malvern, Penn., 1993 [3]; purchased by Thomas Walther, January 16, 1993 [4]; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] Charles Isaacs, letter to Maria Morris Hambourg, September 24, 2013.
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] Ibid.
    [4] MacGill/Walther 2000(2), p. 34.


  • Surface Sheen Semireflective
  • Techniques Retouching (additive)
    Contact print
  • PTM
    View of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Imperial
  • Weight Double weight
  • Thickness (mm) 0.35
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso negative
  • Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 88%
    Hardwood bleached sulfite 12%
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: Al, Sr, Ag, Ba
    • Verso: Al, S, K, Ca, Cr, Sr, Ba

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, P, S, K, Ca, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Sr, Ag

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